Monday, March 1, 2010

XASTHUR "DEMO 2005" (Hydrahead)

Approved for release by Malefic in the wake of negative opinion regarding Xasthur's post-"Subliminal Genocide" material, "Demo 2005" presents two raw tracks recorded about the same time (although with Xasthur you can never really be sure.) As a Xasthur fanatic i, like many, consider "Subliminal Genocide" to be one of the pustulated jewels in Malefic's crown of worms-it's a monster of an album, resplendent in its huge cavernous tomblike sound, layers and layers of dreamy guitar washout and some of Malefic's strongest compositions since "Nocturnal Poisoning." It was the perfect album to debut with on Hydrahead, signifying both a break with the past and allegiance to the original ideals of the music. Initially i found myself feeling a bit betrayed by Xasthur's jump to a "major" label (believe me, in black metal circles this signing was near treasonous) but the strength of the material convinced me that Xasthur was not diluting the sound or concept one iota and Hydrahead was intent on fostering a truly visionary artist. The two albums that followed "Subliminal Genocide" did not fare so well, either critically or amongst all but the most ardent of fans. "Defective Epitaph" was dissonant and elliptical even by previous standards while "All Reflections Drained" was a dirging, minimalist exploration of the band's singular sound. I found both albums to be brilliant, even logical extensions of Malefic's blackened grandeur-challenging and engaging both while keeping intact all the things that made Xasthur so unique. Apparently my opinion was the minority and many listeners lamented the abandonment of the "Subliminal Genocide" sound.
Which leaves us with these two tracks. They're Xasthur, obviously, just a little rawer and tinnier-sounding than usual. Where they fit in the larger scheme of things and what they ultimately mean is more debatable, as they don't seem to me to be all that different from anything Malefic has produced before "Subliminal Genocide" or after. Both are extended pieces, about 8 minutes each, and both hover more in the black metal/dreamwash hybrid that Xasthur has bred so purely throughout the years. There are no surprises here, just business as usual-guitars layered to saturation, doubling and tripling and collapsing in on themselves from the result of meticulous tracking and recording, as well as laden with echoes and delays and all other manner of distorting looping effects. Drums are machine-generated and far-away sounding, perhaps the largest break from the "Subliminal Genocide" sound-that album featured absolutely flattening drums by Xasthur standards (but hey-these are demo versions...) With a little polish and construction both of these tracks could have fit alongside the other "SG" material just fine, and why Malefic chose to shelve them is a mystery. The second track is particularly strong, boasting an extended outro comprised of nauseating harmonized guitar leads, panned hard right and hard left, that twist and mutate and devolve and become so dissonant and uncomplimentary that the track becomes difficult to listen to. The effects just take everything in hand and change them. That constant state of flux, even within songs, is one of Xasthur's most distinctive and inimitable features and its used to its maximum effect here.
What perplexes me most is the fact that people don't seem to remember that "Subliminal Genocide" was actually a pretty fucked-up album. It was a brainmelter, surely. Aside from a few straightforward (again, using that term very loosely) pummelers the album was mostly given over to hypnotic dirging and uneasily dreamy guitar explorations. It's obviously different from both "Defective Epitaph" and "All Reflections Drained" but if listened to carefully it's easy to hear the gurglings of both those albums within. It isn't a far reach to go from one to the other and back. It's a logical (and to me, obvious) progression. "Demo 2005" doesn't bridge a gap or solve a mystery so much as it gives the dedicated follower more to think about and another facet to appreciate; in that regard its value is inherent.

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