Xasthur Portal Of Sorrow

[Disharmonic Variations/Hydra Head; 2010]

Styles: black metal
Others: Leviathan/Lurker of Chalice, Burzum, Darkthrone, Wolves In The Throne Room

If you’re familiar with American black metal from the last decade, you’re probably familiar with Xasthur. Along with Leviathan/Lurker of Chalice front man Wrest, Xasthur’s Scott Conner (a.k.a. Malefic) has been one of the most visible figure in the stateside scene. He may not tour, but he’s been releasing material on a regular basis since before 2002. He even sang on sunn 0)))’s epochal Black One, his vocals literally recorded inside of a coffin. In March, however, Conner announced on his blog that Portal of Sorrow is the final Xasthur album. According to the post, he was dissatisfied with the results of his last two albums — Defective Epitaph and All Reflections Drained — and lamented the fact that he never managed to fully realize Xasthur as anything but a solo project.

It’s quite interesting, then, that Portal of Sorrow sees Conner enlisting the help of folk singer Marissa Nadler for the final Xasthur release. But what on paper might look like an unusual pairing turns out to be one of the album’s greatest strengths. While the album still relies heavily on keyboards and layers of dissonant guitars to create a sonic backdrop, they’re augmented this time by Nadler’s voice, which provides a stunning choral canvas for Conner to splatter his walls of fuzz-laden metal onto. The approach benefits the album greatly: despite much of the Xasthur template remaining the same, it’s the minor tweaks that really serve to highlight his strengths and downplay some of the traits that have become problematic on the last two full-lengths.

This is made particularly evident in the instrumentation. While Conner is clearly trying to mix things up throughout, he still seems to be playing the percussion, an instrument at which he’s not particularly adept. But the way the songs are built seem to in fact work better due to his limited ability, especially due to the variety of rhythms he employs. One of the main obstructions to success for Defective Epitaph was that all of the songs plodded along with the same tempo to what literally sounded like the same beat, so it’s refreshing to hear him addressing this uniformity with a fairly equal number of slow, mid-tempo, and fast songs on the album.

Longtime Xasthur fans should find a lot to love about Portal of Sorrow, aside from it being a parting gift from its creator. But make no mistake: this is still clearly the work of the same mind behind previous recordings. If you didn’t care for Conner’s work in the past, Nadler’s presence doesn’t change the tone dramatically enough to affect your opinion. Either way, Connor bows out on an upswing with Portal of Sorrow, and while this may be his final Xasthur release, the news is mitigated somewhat by the exciting announcement that he’s already begun work on a new, non-metal music project.

Links: Xasthur - Disharmonic Variations/Hydra Head

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