Review Summary: A twisted, haunting and suffocating musical journey into USBM's darkest mind
Xasthur is a big name in the US black metal scene, with the majority of black metal listeners at least been aware of it's existence, even if not having heard the music. Xasthur was the one man project of Malefic (Scott Conners) playing a raw style of DSBM. This is their first album 'Nocturnal Poisoning
' and it is a great album.
The first thing that you will notice upon listening is the rawness of the sound, it is very noisy and fuzzy, the guitars in particular and the vocals, which sound like a highly distorted roar. This, for me, adds a lot to the sound, adding to the atmosphere that the music generates well, and complementing the style that Malefic is attempting to achieve with the music, the wall of sound been made of lots of smaller parts that all compliment each other, making something much more impressive. This style of production leaves a haze and coldness that simply makes the music greater than it already is, without falling into the trap of some bands that deliberately use raw production to sound 'Kvlt' or 'Trve'.
The guitars on this album use a variety of different styles, from your standard black metal tremolo, to rock style riffs, to clean sections. All of these blend together within songs, creating a variation that doesn't sound forced, but rather flows. The unfortunate part is that sometimes the melodies are lost in the mix, and only repeated listening allows them to come through. The guitars are complex in a subtle way, with often multiple layers blending together, different riffs and sounds forming the mass of sound, forming a layer of depressing and dark sounding riffing that forms the basis of the songs. Another aspect of the instruments worth mentioning is the synthesiser, which plays a key part in the sound of Xasthur, chordal patterns and melodies blending in to the sound, and sometimes even taking the lead, such as in 'Soul Abduction Ceremony
' where it holds the melody for part of the song. The bass is pretty much inaudible for the most part, and only occasionally shines through, playing simple riffs similar to the guitars.
The drum machine on this is brilliant, since it is hard to tell that is it as machine, this may be in part due to the production, or simply the machine quality, but it sounds quite good for a drum machine. For the most part the drum lines aren't to complex for black metal, playing double bass and simple rock patterns, but it fits the music well enough, so have no complaints.
The vocals on this, for me, are some of the best in US black metal. They are low in the mix, forming part of the wall of sound from this album, and are heavily distorted shrieks, making the lyrics completely unintelligible, but the sound is so dark, twisted and evil that it doesn't matter, it is the perfect sound for Xasthur's music, almost echoing and fading, like it's done from a distance. The lyrics aren't your standard DSBM self harm, 'wanting to die', style, but rather are more abstract, and better written, such as these from 'Soul Abduction Ceremony
'The moon tonight feels my revenge
To summon forth my time (of sin) and hate
Impaled are their wings
Raped is the soul
From the bleeding holy womb
At one with night, for I’m with death
Eyes now bleed
In the color and sight of terror
The moon tonight screams with revenge
I’ve entered your dreams out of fear
But the thing that this album does best is create atmosphere, an emotionally intense, suffocating atmosphere of complete darkness, that never lets up for the entirety of its length. It draws you in, hypnotising you with it's repeated haunting riffs, and doesn't let you go until the end. This is what makes Xasthur so brilliant, the atmosphere the music creates is unique to itself, and can't be replicated by other bands, even when they try their best.
Xasthur is a very unique style of depressive black metal, and this album is one of Malefics best, a dark, haunting and thoroughly enjoyable debut that should definitely be checked out by anyone into USBM or DSBM, or just wants something new to listen to.
Production can drown out melodies