How is it that black metal, the most alienating and horrifying subgenre of metal, suddenly became popular amongst the avant-garde crowd in the last year? Wolf Eyes and Sunn O))), each poster boys of their respective noise ends, certainly take great influence from the nearly outsider form, the latter even employing the vocal talents of Malefic screaming inside of a coffin on Black One. Funny to think that some of those folks were still in high school (maybe younger) when black metal's Norwegian brethren were burning churches and having gang wars.
eBay's recent decision to ban all black metal sales, "items that promote hatred, violence, racial, or religious intolerance," signifies the genre's quick rise from over a decade's obscurity, even if very few kvlt bands nowadays promote this kind of discrimination (and if they do, it's not all that different from what you might hear from other genres — even, or especially, all varieties of metal). Does this de facto blame depend not only on content but also on black metal's grim image and sound? All signs point to yes, but then you have a project like Xasthur, the one-man metal band of Malefic.
The Southern California musician did collaborate in Xasthur's earlier incarnations, but as he has mentioned in interviews, he does not work well with others. This is where he practices what he preaches — by completely alienating himself from musicians, embedded in a local scene that does not support him, he's allowed to focus on the bleak self-loathing that makes up every fiber of Xasthur. Black metal's hatred has always been directed at religion, society, and, unfortunately, sometimes certain people, but Malefic unflinchingly cuts inward with a Nietzschean knife. Subliminal Genocide suggests that the most deserved fate we subconsciously concoct for ourselves — or, more likely, Malefic for himself — is total human destruction.
The standards of black metal are all here: relentlessly buzzing guitars, demonic whispers from the unknown 11th circle of hell, and corpse paint. Unlike most of his companions and influences, however, Malefic places his emphasis on atmosphere, an oppressive, funeral-paced, lo-fi descent. Guitar riffs are obscured by multiple washes of murky, buzzing distortion (riffs almost post-rock in their deliberate choices), gothic keyboards and synthesized choirs overtake the drone, and drums, if audible or even present, are only there to establish a basic rhythm (with the exception of the pillaging title track — the most violent and beautiful metal song I've heard all year).
Xasthur's been the master of this kind of black metal for the past few years, and one thing intense followers will notice is that he seems to be mining his back catalog on Subliminal Genocide. It's a fair enough observation, but Malefic has come to an exciting point of refinement in his discography. He's confident not only in his lyrical themes, but in his musical themes as well. The dreamy moods and textures (and even riffs) appear repetitive on cursory listen, but they occur in key points of emotional and compositional importance. This makes for a harrowing yet full-bodied listen, like a bottle of Pinot Noir: subtle, powerful, and mesmerizing.