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Xasthur - Subliminal Genocide

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Artist: Xasthur

Album: Subliminal Genocide

Label: Hydra Head

Review date: Oct. 9, 2006

According to research (pioneered by backseat riders of the Penn Trafford High School Class of '92 PM Vo-Tech bus), one axiom holds true in 90 percent of cases: the more illegible the logo, the harsher-sounding and more underground a metal band one can expect. Xasthur's logo looks like a hairy ink-dipped tarantula hanging out around some smeared runes. When meditated upon to the accompaniment of Subliminal Genocide, the fucking thing looks like it could very well crawl off the page and shoot you full of bone-dissolving venom. And honestly, by track five, you probably wouldn't even care.

There's a certain perverse satisfaction that San Francisco's Bay Area – renown for feel-good vibes of love peace and happiness – has become much more than a blip on the horizon for the U.S. Black Metal scene. That the black metal baton (charred femur bone?) has been picked up there is actually a notion neither all that far-fetched nor unprecedented. Consider that the Norwegian black metal scene of the early '90s cited strong influence from the then-extreme Brazilian metal scene in general, and the high-speed crash and slop of the band Sarcofago in particular. Xasthur sole proprietor Malefic probably did more vinyl-hunting and filesharing than his predecessors traded tapes to amass the proper raw materials for his work, but the tradition of the intercontinental network of black souls is intact. And here is the only pearl of inspiration: No matter your race, color or creed or national origin, there's someone willing to wail dirges along with you.

In addition to the fog city's typical overcast, Malefic must have an extra thick dark cloud – perhaps of sarin or VX gas – permanently stationed overhead. Such is the unrelenting negativity and ferocity of this music that it would be tough to pull this off convincingly for your average indie-rocker BM dilettante. A minor-keyed vamp from a poorly tuned piano (think fifth-grade music class) leads off the dismal intro, "Disharmonic Convergence". It's a brief reprieve in preparation for the 12-minute-plus epic leanings of the subsequent "The Prison of Mirrors." Static, militaristic drum machine program keeps things at a mechanized trot, for its mournful phalanx of layered guitars and choral synth. That murky, rumbling guitar fuzz – quite lovely in a force-of-nature sense – continues to surge and wash over "Beauty is Only Razor Deep." Here, Malefic offers the first of several stylistic curveballs: a shambling, discordant interlude that nearly borders on a blues shuffle, bolstered by the nasal snarl of a phase-shifted guitar. But "Trauma Will Always Linger," anchored by a principal riff that sounds like a more downtrodden "Statues/Amused"-era Husker Du, is where things really begin to get interesting. Malefic's tortured roar, stacked against the head-hanging guitar melodies here, crescendos to an absurd extreme. Muffled shrieks of the asphyxiated at Pompeii. The hacking death-rattle of a peat-bog mummy. Puzzling, barely audible narration, like an obscene phone call from hell's fifth circle: It's all vicious and it's all a solid pisser of a listen. A few more sonic millstones lashed 'round listener's neck constitute the album's remainder, setting vertiginous orchestrations to minimalist machine rhythms and Malefic's ever-noxious vocal. The descent ends at the psychic nadir of "Malice Hidden in Surrealism," a guitar-driven fugue that bookends the album with more fuzzed-out piano.

If the moon had an atmosphere with which to drive grey, ice-cold duststorms, such a landscape might be perfectly evoked by this music. While not as "really, really not fun" as Burzum, this work drains the life and mirth out of any gathering. Unless road-tripping alone to Nunavut, we cannot responsibly recommend repeat listening in the car.

By Adam MacGregor

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