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Nortt / Xasthur - Hedengang / A Curse for the Lifeless

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Artist: Nortt / Xasthur

Album: Hedengang / A Curse for the Lifeless

Label: Southern Lord

Review date: Jul. 14, 2005

Southern Lord’s website brands Nortt’s material as “pure Depressive Black Funeral Doom Metal … Depressingly gorgeous and wrist slittingly sorrowful.” This apparently translates as corrosive guitar tone banging out minor chords, some synth piano, an occasional bell ringing, barely-alive throat growling/chanting, and a martial, ominous drum program set to about 44bpm. Pretty meets ugly. Pretty ugly! Nortt’s four tracks are thematically linked in sound, structure, and mood, but evoke a place so unpleasant, unbearable, and monotonous that you may not ever want to visit. It’s a funeral march, to be sure, but it would probably be a lot more effective if the trappings of malevolence he carries over from death metal were more refined, or at least controlled with more authority. I envision Nortt and his ilk as a bunch of kids who have taken the problems of adolescence internally, using this music as an escape device. I also envision the kind of people who watch horror movies just for the gore, devour pornography, and know too much about serial killers, finding this and lauding it as “some sick shit.” That doesn’t wash. The repressive tone doesn’t allow for release or dynamics; it’s lifeless, flat, and abominable. I never want to endure Nortt’s music again based on this because it just spins its wheels on low skill and singular inspiration.

Xasthur, a.k.a. Malefic, is a different story altogether. Featuring the same materials (synth, guitar, distortion boxes, drum machine) and the same doomed backdrop as inspiration, here’s three songs that go somewhere, where the repetition and ominous tone lead to a building of emotion and depth – actually achieving the sorrow this music uses as a benchmark through traditional singer-songwriter means – rather than dumping its problems out on a listener and saying “here, this is sad, woe is me.” Malefic borrows the concept of sonic layering and manipulating textures from shoegazer rock, which is appealing to those of us who aren’t dyed-in-the-wool black metal fans. His clean guitar lines echo of a factory chorus effect, but showcase competent, non-flash circuitous rhythm playing. I’d also hazard a guess that he’s a Husker Du fan, as the density of his dirty tone here and on other releases copies the opaque wall of buzzsaw noise that Bob Mould shaped years ago. Double-bass patterns on the drum program mingle with the back-end of this distortion to sound something like an industrial fan. Songs are constructed in a lyrical, somewhat classical style of composition. The cheese factor may raise some hackles here and there amidst those who don’t have as much of a tolerance for LARPing or that “Beauty and the Beast” TV series from the 80s, but Malefic doesn’t overplay his hand. Here we have a lasting and noteworthy contribution to this side of metal, and a future collaboration with Sunn 0))) will most likely cause Xasthur’s blackened, horror-filled star to ascend even higher. Check eBay if you don’t believe.

By Doug Mosurock

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