XASTHUR KEEP PURSUING RECLUSIVE CRANKINESS ON 2005 DEMO
I’d like to argue that basement black metal gets a bad rap, but, really, it doesn’t. Though the “genre“ – mostly consisting of one-man bands of wildly varying musical ability recording almost painfully lo-fi, Burzum-inspired black metal – has its share of visionaries too brilliant/socially retarded to work with others, it is, as you would expect, by and large full of dudes who desperately need an editor and/or collaborator to hone/help shape their raw talent (or to tell them to cut it the fuck out and try something else/get a job). In the end, just because you’re one dude that likes black metal, it doesn’t mean you can in-and-of-yourself be a worthwhile band. But of course, in the MySpace era, any dude can lay down something he thinks is brilliant, upload it, get himself a Metal Archives page, and become a contemporary instead of an awkward admirer. No “band” has better typified, for better or worse, basement black metal than Xasthur, a horrifying, dissonant, almost comically bleak collective that provide the prolific soundtrack to sole member Malefic’s personal hell. At best, it’s brutally unflinching, disturbing, surprisingly well-crafted, and FASCINATING; at worst, it meanders endlessly, borders on unlistenable, and is painfully dull. And Xasthur’s latest, 2005 Demo, sheds light on the best and worst Malefic has to offer.
If anything, you can’t deny that Xasthur aren’t true to their/his mission: though black metal isn’t necessarily known for being radio-friendly in the slightest, Xasthur’s brand is particularly esoteric. When firing on all cylinders, the combination of barely-produced recording, detuned guitars, a diseased blanket of synths, and, most importantly, Malefic’s tortured, almost-bestial vocals provide an atmosphere that’s drunk on extreme sadness, one metal of any genre has yet to touch upon. Other basement/suicidal black metal and funeral doom convey a general mopey attitude, but Xasthur sound consumed with a violent, inward hurt that’s at once remarkably confessional and painfully unattractive. 2005 Demo’s first track, “Untitled 4/05,” harnesses this energy, less a song than a slow procession of dissonant, clean arpeggios over a tapestry of buzz saw guitars and ominous synths, all kept in place by a drum machine (Malefic started playing live drums himself on 2007’s Defective Epitaph; it was a less-than-wise decision). Like the best on 2006’s excellent Subliminal Genocide (the session from which 2005 Demo’s two tracks were taken), the song sounds like what would happen if someone put My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields through a Job-like succession of bad events, left him in the middle of the Canadian tundra with only food, water, and a boom box with Burzum’s Filosofem in the tape deck, then asked him to record an album upon his return. The woozy horror of “Untitled 4/05” is the Xasthur that shows us that with all the medical dictionary-derived song titles and lyrics of death metal, the most horrifying song subject can be the rancid awfulness at the center of oneself.
“Untitled 5/05,” though, showcases the band’s weaknesses with full force. A directionless dirge, the song drags on for 9 minutes, taking whatever was interesting about it to its logical breaking point, breaking it, then dragging the pieces on for another minute or two. Even despite a hilariously uncharacteristic flanged-out guitar riff that rears its head five minutes in, it goes on for entirely too long, becoming a tiring exercise in patience rather than challenging what you thought patience was. It’s at the seven minute point that the inherent bullshit of Xasthur’s brand of black metal makes itself apparent: there’s no real reason for “Untitled 5/05” to exist in the band’s catalog, just as 2005 Demo is pretty much a blatant cash grab for tr00-er than thou completists constantly on the hunt for demos and rarities, despite the fact that Demo’s sound quality isn’t THAT different from that on Xasthur’s full length, EP, and split work. The mere fact that it’s simply called 2005 Demo and features two nameless tracks is fishy, implying that the work was just “too raw” to be included on Subliminal Genocide (or to even be named) while one could easily argue that the band’s fetish for obscurity is a marketing tactic: not including these songs on a split or as an EP with a name is a way to spark interest, not unearth almost-lost maybe-classics from Malefic’s seemingly bottomless pit of miserable dirges. “Untitled 5/05” could be any subpar Xasthur song, yet another hulking slab of meat for detractors. But even though 2005 Demo is strictly for uber-fans, it also showcases what the band does best by way of “Untitled 4/05”. I can’t think of another band in metal that quite nails what Xasthur does, but like most prolific artist – from Jesu to Stephen Soderbergh – the dude just needs to learn when to shut the fuck up every once and a while.
(2 1/2 out of 5 horns)