posted on 9/2006 By:
What’s On Tap: More of the same from one of the scene’s leaders in misanthropic, lo-fi, suicidal black metal.
California based one-man black metal projects have been getting quite a bit of attention lately, and it’s about as welcome as a turd in a punch bowl, as far as many black metal purists are concerned. California gloomy gus, Malefic, has certainly spent his share of the time in the limelight over the years with his solo project, Xasthur, and his recent signing to L.A. based indie label, Hydra Head, might push many remaining purists over the edge and into pure beelzebubian rage. After all, you can’t possibly consider yourself a legitimate black metal project if you share the same label with bands such as Pelican, ISIS, and Knut, can you? Well, my panda-face-painted friends, despite the fact Subliminal Genocide has been released on a label that's never sampled from this genre before, the end result is still unmistakably Xasthur-ian in content, and it’s this simple fact that may actually end up pushing this record to the back of fans ‘to play’ pile for a while. Don't get me wrong, I think this is actually a damned fine record, so allow me to explain...
How excited one gets in regards to Subliminal Genocide probably depends on what side of the fence you stand when it comes to Malefic’s prolific works. Over the past 10 years he’s produced 2 EP’s, 6 splits, 3 demos, and now 5 full-length records, all following his tried-and-true formula of trance inducing, graven, suicidal black metal. To an untrained ear the differences between each release would probably be best described as ‘subtle’. All Xasthur recordings feature in varying degrees the following elements; primitive, lo-fi production, simple drum machined rhythms, buzzing, often-discordant guitars, yowled, rueful vocals, and loads of cavernous, frozen keyboard atmospherics. Honed to near perfection over the years, these elements have in turn given much of Malefic’s work an extreme ‘Holy shit, I’m being buried alive’ feel to things. His earlier releases lean more towards a classic Burzum-ic riffing sound, while later works (especially the last three) have leaned further away from traditional black metal by occasionally slowing things to a doomish crawl, and replacing much of the open riffing with more of a manic, plucking guitar sound. Subliminal Genocide takes this to yet another level.
Production wise, Malefic’s latest is still as lo-fi as ever, but the mix (especially the layering) is still much cleaner compared to his pre-2003 material. The record also takes a few tiny steps towards being more adventurous than 2004’s relatively accessible, To Violate the Obvious, shrouding this recording with a bit more lunacy. The guitar work is even more jangled and discordant, and Malefic’s miserably distressed vocals somehow find a way to reach new levels of glumness, really adding to the overall grayness of the record. But the most noticeable shift on Subliminal Genocide is the fact that things often slow even further towards the doomish, gloomish, drone material Malefic seems to have taken a serious interest in lately, so those hoping for a pace closer to A Gate Through Bloodstained Mirrors are in for a disappointing ride. “Beauty is Only Razor Deep”, “Trauma Will Always Linger”, “Loss and Inner Distortion”, and the amazing “Arcane and Misanthropic Projection”, all stand out as personal hi-lights on this record, and represent some of Malefic’s most sepulchral material since the kingly Funeral of Being.
So, with all the shine I’ve apparently put on Subliminal Genocide, what could possibly make me say it’s possible it’ll land on fans’ back burner? Well, as I’ve mentioned above, the changes between Xasthur recordings are quite subtle, and with the amount of material Malefic puts out, it may be questionable to some whether they actually need another record so soon. Also, at over an hour long, Subliminal Genocide is a bit much to swallow in one sitting. Things would have been more easily digested had a little fat been trimmed, especially the 6 1/2 minute outro track.
In the end I’d say there are probably three distinct reactions likely to bubble to the surface in regards to this record; apathy from those metalheads already familiar and disappointed with previous works, intoxication from the more adventurous Hydra Head regulars stumbling across his work for the first time, and familiarity from longtime fans such as myself that were perhaps hoping for something a bit more adventurous this time around. Subliminal Genocide is still a bloody solid slab of black despondency when given the time to fully digest, but much of the material might be a bit too familiar to some.
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