Xasthur - Subliminal Genocide (Hydra Head CD)
So Xasthur's long-awaited Hydra Head debut finally came in the mail today. Xasthur, if you somehow are not aware, is the project of one Malefic aka Scott Conner based out of California and one of the forebearers of the whole new wave of U.S. black metal that's sweeping the nation/Internet. Xasthur's previous records have all been on more "cult" BM labels like Total Holocaust, Moribund Cult, Blood Fire Death, Displeased Records, and Southern Lord. I'm assuming this too was meant for a Southern Lord release until Malefic's well-documented split with those dudes. I guess it kinda makes sense for him to put it out on Hydra Head - they're also based in the U.S., and probably have about the same level of distribution as Southern Lord does. Of course I've already heard people chiding Malefic for "going where the money is" and having the audacity to release his record on a label that also houses metalcore/screamo acts. Personally, I'm no mincer. As long as I can obtain it, I don't give a shit who puts out. But it appears Hydra Head are trying to pick up the slack - they've already announced a pre-order pack for a black metal band by name of Heresi. Aaron Turner's newfound appreciation for black metal? Whatever you say mang!
First, let's get one thing out of the way - I'm a huge Xasthur fan. I think just about all his records are pretty well great. But they all seem to have one common snag - they're long. And when I say long, I mean they almost all clock in close to an hour. Which, if you ask me, is oftentimes too much for a black metal record. Maybe I just don't have a long enough attention span, but I don't know. I prefer my metal records to be short and to the point (well unless we're talking doom or drone records but that's a whole other thing altogether). Whereas I could stomach those other releases, "Subliminal Genocide" is a whopping 70 minutes in length. And if you know Xasthur's music, you know it tends to...well...meander. And that's exactly what happens here when Malefic is given such a vast amount of time to stretch out. The longest track is the 12-minute opener (after the brief introduction) "The Prison of Mirrors". And maybe it's because of the mood I'm in but I tell you I've been playing this track numerous times and nothing's sticking. It just seems like a total blur of riffs, synths, and Malefic's trademark howls. Same thing on the 9-minute "Arcane and Misanthropic Projection" - although that one does open with a pretty creepy keyboard/wailing guitar ala Nachtmystium's last one thing (and a very bizarre quasi-bass solo midway through)...it's just, I don't know. Too formless. Too open-ended. Too loose. Kinda like the 15-minute title-track on 2002's "Nocturnal Poisoning". I guess the problem when you're a one-man band is there's no second opinion to take you aside and say "hey, maybe we should trim of this down" which is what this album is in dire need of. It's not all bad news though - "Beauty is Only Razor Deep" is a classic Xasthur dirge that never bores and also puts to work a great keyboard/guitar glissando deal that proves Malefic still has enough surprises left in him. "Victim of Your Dreams" is a near-cacophonious onslaught with the guitar weaving endless wigs of thick, matted noise above a prodding double-bass juggernaut. The instrumental "Through a Trance of Despondancy" features a cloudy, slow-paced and distorted riff that I wouldn't at all mind seeing expanded upon, but the track is given just three and a half short minutes. "Subliminal Genocide" on the other hand is played across 8-minutes, just the right length of time for Malefic to make good use of a keyboard riff approaching near-orchestral levels by hoarsely screaming over it as only he can. The closing "Malice Hidden in Surrealism" - an epic guitar solo accompanied by minimal keyboard and fuzz - is great on its own, but by the time you wade through all 63 minutes (including "Pyramid of Skulls" and "Loss and Tuner Distortion" a couple of interludes that could've just as easily been spared) to get to it , the impact of its "epicness" is probably long since lost.
In the end it's not as if "Subliminal Genocide" is a total wash - there are a lot of great ideas on here. The album as a whole is simply marred by a poor decision to seemingly want to fill up every single possible space with sound (a decision that has often ruined many a great record, in my eyes). Maybe Malefic felt the need to be as ambitious as possible on a record that is probably his equivalent of a "major label debut". Who knows. On the other hand though if you're a die-hard Xasthur fan you'll probably be super-stoked about the fact that it'll take you multiple, possibly endless spins before "Subliminal Genocide" starts to fully work its way into your head. Though I will say that at least when Malefic's Californian BM brother-in-arms Wrest does the long form composition thing (both of his LPs clock in at 72 minutes), he manages to keep them consistently entertaining and engaging. Xasthur's on the other hand manage to fall short and lead the listener (or rather, me) to constantly check the track time wondering if it's over yet. And that ain't no fun. But then again I guess that's not what "suicidal black metal" is all about.