2004, Moribund Records
The question for me now, at this point in Malefic's career, watching him from a distance negotiating the early career hurdles of popularity, acclaim, critical sponsorship from the mainstream underground publications, etc. is aligned, just as it was before, along the paths of aesthetics, wondering now as a number of years ago how he will progress in the evolution of Xasthur - or if he will at all. Black metal, as we all know, is a subgenre of metal that not only harbors those who refuse (or can not) evolve or advance in the exploration of their own aesthetic statements, it is positively (or negatively, as it were) a gathering of artists, aficionados, perverts, those who run from the light, etc. gathered, at times, around the singularly nihilistic ethic of artistic stagnation. There are many in the black metal underground who claim that aesthetic progression in one's material is unwarranted, that musical/expressive exploration and experimentation is harmful to the "black metal spirit", and that all such evolution should be peremptorily blocked and/or denigrated to serve some "greater purpose" of black metal...what that "greater purpose" is or will be at any given moment is, of course, undefined. It is not difficult to trace the origin of this attitude - look no further than Darkthrone - but at the heart of this approach to composition and its attendant derivations from earlier bands lies a cold irony: Darkthrone's two main influences, Bathory and Hellhammer, were - as later events (events in this case just meaning succeeding works) were to show - progressive entities. Hellhammer was left behind on the rehearsal room floor in scorn because Warrior and Ain could not bear the onus of its atavism and sought the more fertile, open, free-breathing spaces of Celtic Frost (even now, Frost is a byword or signifier for the "progressive" in metal composition because of "Into the Pandemonium"), and Bathory was always in development as Quorthon never stopped trying to change his band's approach to composition; correspondingly various metal subgenres can simultaneously claim his mark of origin and patronage: black metal, death metal, viking metal, etc. Atavistic or "primitive" black metal bands would be better off claiming Venom as their main influence!
When Darkthrone were at their peak, earlier in the transition stage between death and the new ("second wave") black metal of "A Blaze..." and then again at the height of their idiosyncrasies at "Transilvanian Hunger" and "Panzerfaust" they of course chose, as their model, both early Frost and Bathory, but not even they, at this point, would have said (if they were honest) that they considered slavish repetition and a fear of progression (nihilistic in its denial of artistic prerogative and desire, and suicidal in its self-destroying anti-creativity, anti-originality) to be the "root" of "pure" black metal. Even at their most traditional, on "Panzerfaust", Darkthrone instilled/distilled enough of their own aesthetic originality into their compositions and production sound to make the album appear to be a definite progression from anything their influences could possibly create. Did Quorthon or Warrior have anything in their blood, hearts, and minds that could ultimately result in something like "En Vind Av Sorg" or "The Hordes of Nebulah"? Not a chance. It was only later, after the sad nullity of "Total Death" and the return of the band from the brink of dissolution, where they, instead of creating reflexively, originally, and with individual, stubborn intent, started interpreting their own prior motives and commenting through their new songwriting on what had come before in their own history, did the ethic of tradition or adamant conservatism for its own sake become something solid, well-defined, influential, and ultimately harmful. This is to say that...a certain form of self-awareness, the view of an objective judgement of one's material, can often be a negative thing.
Enough about Darkthrone. Can one hear self-referential giddiness in Xasthur's newest creations? I certainly can not, but then again because there are so few signifiers as to Malefic's progression (again, if there are any at all) that it becomes increasingly difficult as he continues to produce material to date, categorize, or place in any kind of definite order anything he has released, and thus, in a timeless series of productions self-reference becomes rather an accident of song placement (in whatever series) instead of a line traceable through allusions to chronology. What is the difference between the Xasthur of "Telepathic with the Deceased" and the band of "A Gate Through Bloodstained Mirrors"? I honestly have trouble enunciating or describing the differences, and I wonder if this is an echo of Malefic's own wishes (as they are manifested in his art) or just another way of my subconscious mocking my attempts to "define" or create an adequate vocabulary/terminology to capture the extralinguistic effects of these soundworlds. It is probably just a failure of my own understanding. Having for some time now fully immersed myself within Malefic's music and permitting his efforts to permeate my consciousness while I attempted to be especially receptive to any messages it may or may not carry, I feel at times that I have learned everything that he can possibly teach me when it comes to the delineation, elaboration, construction, and investigation of "mysterious" atmospheres, and yet these special (signature) moments of his compositional concentration are, of course, through the agency of a talent that I would wager even he does not fully understand himself (or at least this would be his "explanation", as the romantic archetypes/paradigms of the "natural" artist still resonate within our culture - but this is the fault, in part, of the vocabulary he has been given to describe his work), elusive in the fullest, "mysterious" even as they are channeled through his conscious attempts at rational, "traditional", well-defined (aesthetically, and in terms of techniques) compositional "style". This is of course what makes music so special for all of us, fans and enthusiasts as well as composers and musicians: the ability of the extralinguistic both to escape one's skill to describe abstract forms and one's ability to define, control, or categorize these abstractions because of a multiplicity of expressive factors (that seem "natural" and/or "supernatural" to the unintelligent) that fly free of the musician's aptitude to track them in the meeting place of music's creation: time and space, time and emotion, time and the interpenetration of melodic concepts.
Still, one can hear on this release certain attempts being made to isolate a particular form or style of presentation, from all of the various aesthetic signifiers/particulars in Xashthur's material to date, and present that collection of forms or holistic, inclusive structure as a statement of intent, perhaps, or at least a sort of artistic display of cohesion, of self-awareness, of a compositional standard being placed as a boundary, a marker, and then (perhaps) a trajectory. It remains to be seen whether this trajectory can spread its influence beyond this material, or if Malefic will return in the future to comment on it, abrogate it gently, mock it, play alongside it with self-deprecating good humor, etc. This is to say: whether or not Malefic will continue in the creation, definition, and exploration of one signature style and approach to black metal compositional/creative/melodic techniques can not be determined at this time...I would need to listen to the next album in his history, and perhaps the next after that. So in the meantime what we have, again, is a somewhat simpler Xasthur, appearing out of the mists of four-track tape hiss and drum machine programming to surface with tainted messages from Malefic's unconscious and his will-to-compose, his now (especially pertinent) will-to-be-noticed, a much less "comprehensive" organism but one that is (seemingly, at least on the surface) no stranger, still, to the inward, introverted, Burzum-influenced, source of solipsistic black metal...black metal as a demonstration of loneliness, isolation, pain, hatred, self-loathing, etc. Directed outwards, always, as a sort of flashing sign through the murkiness of this genre's inherited obsession with artificially-produced signifiers of "obscurity" (And thus profundity? Consult Nietzsche on the "muddying of waters"), as demonstration of inwardness and incommunicability, yet always eager (as an expression of its purpose, the reason it was created) to "draw one in" to the echoing, morbid sound fields, the hazy fog of inescapable melancholy, the elaboration of musical abstractions as direct corollaries of emotional states. It is still an effective style, I should say...although since it has now been defined, categorized, labeled by critics, given an "official" origin, purpose, stylistic "meaning" (in terms of internationally competing aesthetic convictions and their corresponding alliances, Xasthur and Leviathan have been pointed to as the "new hope" of "American black metal" - which is just marketing), one can only wonder how long it will be before Malefic feels himself to be rigidly confined and unnaturally preserved by expectations inside this "identity" of Xasthur, and how long before he will make his move to escape it. As it stands, he has not reached that point yet. "Telepathic with the Deceased", then, should please his older fans and welcome new ones into the fold with its relative simplicity. It is not excellent, but it is more than adequate, and that is seemingly all that is being asked from Malefic at this time.