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After releasing a magnificent demo tape "A Gate Through Bloodstained Mirrors", Xasthur continues on to release his debut full-length album, "Nocturnal Poisoning." This album contains the same sound we experienced on that demo. Very raw, hateful, depressing, and quite horrifying black metal. To a lot of followers of Malefic (aka Scott Connor), this album is considered his finest release. While I don't quite agree, and I like two of his albums ("Telepathic With the Deceased" and "Subliminal Genocide") more, this is definitely his third finest album. This record is one of the most beautiful black metal storms to come out of the US scene.
"Into the Hate of Battle" is the album's 9 minute opener. Right away, this is a deviation from the previous demo, which contained a short intro track before getting to the actual songs. Malefic is known to throw an intro track into his albums, but there are certainly albums in which this does not occur. "Nocturnal Poisoning" is an example. This album is full of extremely sad melodies made up of tremendously fuzzy guitars and keyboards. The guitars on this album, as with most Xasthur releases, create a dense, bleak wall of sound. However, the melodies are still heard through this wall, and amplified quite a bit by the keyboards. "Soul Abduction Ceremony" contains some of the greatest melodies on the entire record, and the instrumental cover of the classic Mütiilation song "Black Imperial Blood" even exceeds the original in terms of both sound quality and atmosphere. Compared to the Mütiilation version, which was insanely raw, this version is so much cleaner. It does still capture the raw atmosphere but amplifies it greatly. All of these songs are great and this album contains no filler, however; one track truly stands out. The 15 minute giant that is the album's self-titled track. The somber melody that is executed right at the beginning of the song is so depressing and miserable, it creates a sense of everlasting gloom and hopelessness within the listener. This melody shows up again throughout this song and that makes it even more effective, as it puts the listener into a complete trance.
This album contained the best production value of any other Xasthur recording up to its release. It is still raw just like the previous demo was, although the instruments are mixed so much more effectively. The drums are provided with a drum machine which really is no surprise, but they are pushed back far enough in the mix to assure they are not a distraction to the listener. Scott's vocals sound quite a bit better than they did previously. He sounds less like he is trying to emulate "Filosofem" era Burzum, and more original. I could compare his vocals to that of a truly tormented soul, and judging by the music this magnificent specimen of a human creates, that's exactly what he is: an absolutely tormented, depressed soul. This radiates throughout this entire musical journey. With a runtime of just over an hour, there is plenty of depression to go around.
Through its use of dark ambient soundscapes and distorted black metal madness, "Nocturnal Poisoning" has become a classic within the US black metal scene, specifically the "depressive suicidal black metal" (DSBM) movement. This was only the beginning to a fairly consistent string of full-lengths provided by Malefic, and Xasthur is definitely deserving of the fame it has achieved.
Xasthur is a big name in the US black metal scene, with the majority of black metal listeners at least been aware of it's existence, even if not having heard the music. Xasthur was the one man project of Malefic (Scott Conners) playing a raw style of DSBM. This is their first album 'Nocturnal Poisoning' and it is a great album.
The first thing that you will notice upon listening is the rawness of the sound, it is very noisy and fuzzy, the guitars in particular and the vocals, which sound like a highly distorted roar. This, for me, adds a lot to the sound, adding to the atmosphere that the music generates well, and complementing the style that Malefic is attempting to achieve with the music, the wall of sound been made of lots of smaller parts that all compliment each other, making something much more impressive. This style of production leaves a haze and coldness that simply makes the music greater than it already is, without falling into the trap of some bands that deliberately use raw production to sound 'Kvlt' or 'Trve'.
The guitars on this album use a variety of different styles, from your standard black metal tremolo, to rock style riffs, to clean sections. All of these blend together within songs, creating a variation that doesn't sound forced, but rather flows. The unfortunate part is that sometimes the melodies are lost in the mix, and only repeated listening allows them to come through. The guitars are complex in a subtle way, with often multiple layers blending together, different riffs and sounds forming the mass of sound, forming a layer of depressing and dark sounding riffing that forms the basis of the songs. Another aspect of the instruments worth mentioning is the synthesiser, which plays a key part in the sound of Xasthur, chordal patterns and melodies blending in to the sound, and sometimes even taking the lead, such as in 'Soul Abduction Ceremony' where it holds the melody for part of the song. The bass is pretty much inaudible for the most part, and only occasionally shines through, playing simple riffs similar to the guitars.
The drum machine on this is brilliant, since it is hard to tell that is it as machine, this may be in part due to the production, or simply the machine quality, but it sounds quite good for a drum machine. For the most part the drum lines aren't to complex for black metal, playing double bass and simple rock patterns, but it fits the music well enough, so have no complaints.
The vocals on this, for me, are some of the best in US black metal. They are low in the mix, forming part of the wall of sound from this album, and are heavily distorted shrieks, making the lyrics completely unintelligible, but the sound is so dark, twisted and evil that it doesn't matter, it is the perfect sound for Xasthur's music, almost echoing and fading, like it's done from a distance. The lyrics aren't your standard DSBM self harm, 'wanting to die', style, but rather are more abstract, and better written, such as these from 'Soul Abduction Ceremony':
'The moon tonight feels my revenge
To summon forth my time (of sin) and hate
Impaled are their wings
Raped is the soul
From the bleeding holy womb
At one with night, for I’m with death
Eyes now bleed
In the color and sight of terror
The moon tonight screams with revenge
I’ve entered your dreams out of fear'.
But the thing that this album does best is create atmosphere, an emotionally intense, suffocating atmosphere of complete darkness, that never lets up for the entirety of its length. It draws you in, hypnotising you with it's repeated haunting riffs, and doesn't let you go until the end. This is what makes Xasthur so brilliant, the atmosphere the music creates is unique to itself, and can't be replicated by other bands, even when they try their best.
Xasthur is a very unique style of depressive black metal, and this album is one of Malefics best, a dark, haunting and thoroughly enjoyable debut that should definitely be checked out by anyone into USBM or DSBM, or just wants something new to listen to.
Production can drown out melodies
Originally Posted here: http://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/62450/Xasthur-Nocturnal-Poisoning/
Xasthur supposedly [?] descends in a direct line from Manes. Having realized that, and then realizing that this band and its sole musician, a man who goes by the name of Malefic [the black metal stage names are getting harder and harder to create, aren't they - there don't seem to be many "evil" words left unused], do not hide the origins of their ideas away in the music itself, you are free to take in the infernal ambiance and darker-than-black textures/atmospheres here without worrying too much about influences, references, or obscure subtext. Now I might be imagining this, but I believe I read at some point that Malefic [whose real name is Scott] denied being influenced by Manes in a public forum. This could be true. Stranger things have happened than two or more artists springing towards similar ideas from vaguely similar routes/roots, without being aware of each other. I mention Manes only because it makes my job a little easier in trying to carry across the music-language threshold some remnant of an idea that will lend you, my reader, more than a superficial glimpse of the sound pictures Scott can seemingly draw together at will. I mention Manes because the similarities are undeniable, even though the artist behind this band might not believe that… and ultimately I reference them because in my mind, the places where these two musical entities take me when I imagine landscapes and/or events to fit the sweep of their music, are more than linked on a tangent or in a shallow hold. No, they are bound together. Is it just me, what I hear on my own, what I am applying to all of this?
Perhaps. There is also a Mutiilation cover on this album, if that points you in any concrete direction. It did for me at first, before I actually listened to the album. Afterwards I didn't care about Mutiilation anymore.
What is Xasthur? What kind of beast?
It isn't a touring band, a group of musicians who seek to influence their local scene, sell records, gain wicked notoriety, pile up heaps of freshly minted glory, or gain the attention of unbalanced females and misunderstood, troubled youth. Xasthur isn't an agent of disease, although it may feel like that at times - especially when you are sick yourself. It isn't a blasphemous curse, a malediction, an expression of anathema, or an outpouring of rage. Title aside, the first track here, "In The Hate of Battle", never reminds me of abstracted hate, battle, or anything related to them. The title does not fit the music at all. Leave the war attitudes, postures, and relations to the amateurs, Malefic [!], the ones who are still convinced that this subspecies of vile black metal has evolved out of death metal's obviousness, or heavy metal's cartoon bathos. This is something deeper, finer, subtler, more refined, and so much more personal than overt gesticulations and gestures of aggression. Xasthur is not an attack, although it can be seen as a victory of sorts. Xasthur is not, either, a means of spitting bile at things that supposedly embitter Scott. No… if anything Xasthur is an animal that lives and breeds off of bile, the blackest sort, and I can't see it "ridding itself" of its own lifeblood. Why would it? Why spread life when you can concentrate, in yourself, all the wretched stirrings of death?
What is Xasthur? What kind of creature?
Two guitars at most times, heavily, irrevocably distorted into gray curtains or sheets of noise and abstract sound, one entering from the left channel, one from the right. Suffocating, they are thick as a hurricane's revolving rains, alternately sweeping towards the middle in a billowing fog, inside the listener, or removing themselves to a distance, echoing through nostalgic layers of reverb. A black underside of static, the voices of ghosts, dead air, the frequencies between radio stations on an AM dial, the sounds of cars passing on a distant highway at night. The songs are pieced together from fragments, like individual Ildjarn tracks ripped apart and pressed together at the ends or on top of each other, only at half the speed. Riffs start and stop almost randomly, or pace themselves for a marathon of dream-eliciting repetition. Somewhere, from some other time, echo out screams, moans, and piercing, mesmerizing wordless cries that do not bleed anger, remorse, or suffering, but only an overwhelming sadness. A diseased melancholy. Beneath this, over it, inside it, peering out or looking down from above, or suddenly appearing from beneath, is a clean trembling guitar, echoing slow lyrical melodies like an Usher heir, ancient and heartbreaking. Behind that, even further in the distance are the drums, or more accurately, a snare, kick, and at times a fragile descent of toms, held down by a constant steady pulse of crash cymbal hits launching each alternation in the picking hand of the rhythm guitarist/guitars. With each steady lurch of the riffs, the cymbals crash and announce a new movement, a new direction - if only a slight variation. It could be a drum machine, although the tones of the percussion are so washed in monochrome distortion and the noise of the recording materials that it is impossible to tell. It is as if [if indeed a drum machine] the machine's digital ramblings were sent out through a guitar amp, distortion was applied, and then that real time source was miked and sent back into the recorder. Stabbing through all of these elements is the icy, forbidding, ethereal, evocative ambiance of keyboard riffs, runs, and echoing effects. It is impossible to adequately describe the power of these synth parts allied with the [purposely or not?] poor production - the combination is almost a literal definition or defining example of the "obscurity" and "mystery" that black metal bands so often try to project through their music. The keyboard parts are beautiful [hauntingly so, like a slow procession of spirits, or a half-remembered memory] in themselves, but when their timbre is changed through the effect of the production process the outcome is perfect. Find and listen to the immensely moving fifth song "Legion of Sin and Necromancy" for a superior example of this. The charging, leaping, biting Burzum-like main rhythm riff [counterbalanced by a good driving drum pattern beneath it] is drowned and purified beneath the death rays of an eclipse, a deluge of dulcet electronic reflections on the surface of the melody's caustic, acidic rip and tear. The echoing desert nightscape and clean well of souls atmosphere that closes out this piece of eleven minutes and thirty nine ticking seconds solidifies its status as one of the best black metal songs of all time. It is surely my favorite track on the album, although it has a lot of competition from the others. Inspirational.
Manes was never this dark, never this poignant, never this lithe, never this powerful. Manes was never, ever this good.
Upon reflection, it is difficult to pick out exactly what elements make Xasthur unique. It might just be the entire monstrosity itself, the complete sound, the style, the combination of all instruments and their respective qualities working together in a unified whole. It is easy enough to hear that it is the work of one man, one vision. Although there are parts that are obviously added as afterthoughts, as purposeful completions or "touches" to the rapidly drying canvas of a song, they are not out of place. Like Immolation's use of "overlays" at the last instant, in the studio, to flesh out a song and make it a little more evocative, a little darker, a little more effective, these last touches in Xasthur only compliment the sound picture as a whole. It is often in these last minute corrections [of an aesthetic totality of effect] where the true soul of the artist appears, they are his subjectivity shining forth and embody his reflections on his own artwork. In them can be seen, in a minute glimpse, a sort of immediate microcosm, the totality of what he wanted to express in the song condensed, purified, distilled, sent through the tortured alembic twists and turns of the alchemical/artistic process. As every musician knows, one of the most difficult parts of the art is knowing when to finally let go of a song and let it breathe on its own. The obsessive urge to tinker, to toy, to "improve", to change, to "perfect" can strike the consciousness like a vicious compulsion, an addict's craving. The last finishing touches to a work of art are often the most masterful, they require the most skill and the most concentrated intensity of effort, or - at their most touching - a complete submersion and belief in the ideal world that the art represents. They are the outpourings of an artist's faith in himself and in the world that his art opens up for him.
I do not want to attempt any more explanations or descriptions of this entity's effects. What is the purpose? To convince some of you to listen to something that I think is beautiful? You must come to these things yourself, if at all, if ever. Let this review only serve as a sort of passing notice of the pleasure that I had, at this time, in another artist's work, and the meaning and magnificence I found therein. I am using this review to make a note to myself so that later when I read it I will remember the power this music once had [like anything else, that power will fade with time] and then I can reassure myself, when things seem difficult, when the light of inspiration within this form of music grows dim, that works of art were created that were true to their internal essence, that knew no compromises. This is a monument to Xasthur and its power to make me dream, at this exact time and place, as Xasthur itself is an epitaph to mark the passing of its creator's dreams. Long live Xasthur and "Nocturnal Poisoning".
Eight songs, over sixty minutes of majestic art.
The early 2000's were an interesting time in black metal history. The original Scandinavian scene was for lack of a better term, dead. Many of those original bands had either changed their style or evolved into something more mainstream and accessible. At the same time that that scene was dying, the world wide black metal underground was growing. One of the first US bands to be given true cult status around this time was Xasthur. At the time of this album's release I thought it was great. But does it really hold up over a decade later?
The short answer: Hell yes.
The opening "In the Hate of Battle" storms in with a awful sound quality. Fizzy guitars, drum machine, clean guitar, and keys all struggle to be heard through the wall of horribly recorded 4-track sound. Fortunately this album is a shining example of how good songwriting overshadows bad sound quality. The album cover is a perfect representation of the music. It's grey, it's hazy, it's almost indiscernible, all you know is that it's dark and gloomy.
The track "Soul Abduction Ceremony" is probably the best song on the album and the best example of all of the unique elements this album has to offer. Sad guitar melodies buzz over an intense whirwind of synths. Agonized wails protrude through the mix. Supposedly there are lyrics to this album but I can't discern a single syllable. Most songs make use of a twangy, glean guitar that plucks individual dissonant notes and sends them hypnotically to the front of the mix.
The best way to describe the music in this album is "emotionally intense". There are no heavy moments, no epic moments, no aggressive moments, no head bangin' moments. It's all just sheer dismal emotion. In fact, the riffing is so uniquely black metal that a non-metal head might not even recognize this music as part of the metal genre. Take it for what it is. Some people will not enjoy the lack of "metal" in this album.
So how well did this album hold up over the past decade? Surprisingly, much better than I thought it would. Even when this album is praised it rarely gets credit for how original it is. When using such dissonant riffs there's a fine line between creating melodies and just being aimlessly dissonant. The melodies in Nocturnal Poisoning manage to always feel that they have a purpose and direction, which is unfortunately not something I can say about any other Xasthur release.
When Varg Vikernes was imprisoned for murder in Norway in 1996 and could only operate his Burzum project sparingly until 2000 when he abandoned it, many pretenders to his one-man-against-the-world black metal throne arose and of these, the California-based project Xasthur, masterminded by Malefic (Scott Conner to his family), made a strong claim to it with this album. Strong riffing, varied pacing and aproduction that cuts a balance between raw and a crispness in delivery are the distinct features of "Nocturnal Poisoning". Regarded by some people as Xasthur's masterpiece, the album is not bad but to my ears it isn't great either.
The guitars often have very clear tones and a jagged chainsaw edge while the vocals are buried quite deeply in the mix. As there is no lyric sheet for listeners to follow - not that Xasthur's music lends itself to sing-alongs around a campfire - and the singing merges with the whining guitars, you have to rely on the track titles to find out what preoccupies Malefic and not surprisingly the subjects are very pessimistic and dwell on the depressed and the near-suicidal.
One highlight on the album is the all-instrumental cover of French band Mutiilation's "Black Imperial Blood" which in some ways improves on the original: Xasthur's version adds power and achieves a spacious quality that compensates for the lesser speed and aggression than the original with its hive-of-hornets guitars. Momentum is maintained with "Legion of Sin and Necromancy" where buzzing guitars and pure synthesiser tones join in a thrash tapestry of contrasting textures while Malefic's screeching drowns in layers of distortion.
There are moments where Malefic seems to rely a bit too hard on the Burzum black metal pop formula but doesn't grasp fully the essential idea of creating a trance-like state through repetition and atmosphere. (To be fair to Malefic, Burzum didn't always succeed with this formula.) Much of the time the music is repetitive or falls back on conventional modes of melody to keep going. Drumming is pedestrian and lumbers along in some of the later tracks.
The recording cuts a midpoint between black metal and a more melodic and transparent style of rock and perhaps serves as a handy introduction into the black metal scene.
Artwork for the album cover is terrible, the worst I've ever seen. I'm not talking about the skeletal figures, I'm talking about how they've been done.
So I hear from many sources how Xasthur is an aural orgasm. My only bodily response so far has been a violent yawn.
Can this even be called black metal? If I'm not mistaken, you at least need a framework of guitars, drums, and more-often-than-not unsettling vocals for it to qualify. After listening to this album entire, and after fighting my heavy eyelids, I can recall nothing of the sort. There might be something resembling any form of metal beneath the everpresent droning, but for fear of turning into the modern-day Rip Van Winkle, I refuse to give this album a second listen.
Well what is this, then? According to the tags, I was listening to "depressive black metal." What the fuck is depressive black metal? I don't see this subgenre on Metal-Archives, and I've never seen it described to anything but Xasthur. I submit that this "genre" is a bunch of made-up bullshit, like Metalocalypse calling Dethklok "Ragnarok Metal, for it is blacker than the blackest black times INFINITY!!"
What this resembles to me is dark ambient, much akin to Lustmord or Ahasverus. But even if this album were labeled such, it'd still get a low grade. While the aforementioned bands succeed in creating an atmosphere of low-level chill and dread, this album of Xasthur creates feelings of drowsiness.
But I digress. This is labeled black metal, therefore it shall be judged as such. This is NOT black metal. Linkin Park is closer to black metal than this.
Despite this album's great disappointment, I'm going to give Xasthur another chance. Hopefully in later albums they incorporate black metal with their dark ambience and produce what was billed as "Limbonic Art, but slower and creepier." Sadly, I must grade this album an F, and wait to see if this is just a tarnish on an otherwise flawless record to match Xasthur's hype.
I just don’t get it. Perhaps it’s because I’m a nasty Australian and believe the United States is utterly incompetent when it comes to making black metal (with exceptions, of course) or perhaps my attention span is that of a lobotomised ten year old, but I just can’t get into Xasthur. I’m sorry to the fans but it has to be stated, this band is BORING. Throughout Malefic’s entire Xasthuric career, he has produced one song of worth, “Victim of Your Dreams”. That’s one. Not two, just one. Not one album, one song. I think you get my point, Xasthur is boring.
The fact that Xasthur has only one good song doesn’t inherently make them a “bad” band, indeed Xasthur is not a bad band, just a boring one. In fact, revise my statement, because Xasthur is so incredibly average that the music becomes bad because it’s so bloody average. Now, while this review is for “Nocturnal Poisoning”, supposedly one of Xasthur’s better albums, it is in essence applicable to every single other hour long water treading shite bucked of an album this man has ever made. You know, because they’re all boring.
Surprisingly, the lyrics to the three songs that have been supplied with them aren’t too bad. Really, they’re the standard black metal post-1994, complete with copious mentions of hate, souls and hateful souls. It’s all very standard really. One shouldn’t be expecting razors and darkly lit corners ala most bands in this so called “suicidal depressive black metal (SDBM)” genre, which is a ludicrous designation because other than perhaps Shining and a select other few, the music isn’t depressive or suicidal at all (yes I know Shining is gimmicky, this is the music I’m talking though, so bear with me) it’s just incredibly, amazingly, mind-numbingly boring.
Instrumentation wise everything is averagely competent I guess. The guitars fuzz away, the drum machine (more on that later) hits stuff and makes noises and the bass… Well, let’s forget about the bass, Malefic obviously did. All in all it’s an exercise in competence when it comes to the “playing musical instruments” part of “Nocturnal Poisoning”, something that lends to the marvellous lack of offensive inflicted upon the listener. Honestly, it’s almost like Malefic is trying to suffocate me with teddy bears. Much like everything else Xasthur has made, the instrumentation is boring.
If you were to ask me for highlights in this album, I couldn’t give you. Admittedly, I couldn’t give you any lowlights either, as the music is all very samey. In fact the most interesting feature (though the word “interesting” is obviously anathema to Malefic) is the fuzz that envelopes the album. Not fuzz as in Filosofem "I can't decided whether I'm in a pine forest or the hay bail filled plain next to it" fuzz (which worked excellently atmosphere), just fuzz. In fact it’s that same fuzz that’s appeared on damn near every Burzum worshipping album from the US in the past 10 years. Oh yes, the vocals are also slightly different to Xasthur’s later work. “Nocturnal Poisoning’s” vocals display a desire by Malefic to sound more like Varg Vikernes with fuzz than anything else. Did I mention the fuzz? The vocals are fuzzy. Yoda is not impressed with this Xasthur, a creation that is so boring.
Theoretically I should give this album an exact 50% because of the suffocating averageness of this album, however I’m not. Partly motivated by my intense dislike of Malefic and his general wankerishness, but mostly influenced by the extreme annoyance the snare and cymbals of the terrible drum machine inflict upon me (strangely enough the bass drum sounds good so go figure), I am going to give this album a meagre 35%. As this is going to be my only Xasthur review (as it covers every aspect of the band), I should mention that Xasthur would later fix the drum machine problems by mixing them lower than the bottom of the Grand Canyon and getting better samples, and therefore moving towards the magical 50% mark of Supreme Atomic Averageness, of course that was before he got real drums that sound worse than the drum machine here and made Defective Epitaph unlistenable. In summary: I want my hour back, a good hour I could have spent watching Lord of the Rings, listening to Immolation or inventing new, incredible recipes out of everyday household foods. You have two options, listen to this album, or don’t, and go and spread Vegemite on cold rotisserie chicken. If you do the latter, I commend you, for at least you’ll either recognise the magnificent splendour of such a recipe, or at the very least you’ll be entertained, and NOT BORED. Boredom sucks, Xasthur sucks, this is my conclusion, you best hear it lest you suffer an hour of boredom.
Oh, and sorry for the repetition in this review, at least it’s not Xasthuric, boring repetition.
Malefic is to the black metal genre what Paul Cezanne is to impressionist painting; he comes after the initial movement and is not directly related to the pool of creative minds behind said movement. Calling him a “post-black metal” musician however would likely only earn me the scorn of black metal fans. He is sometimes labeled “suicidal black metal,” or “suicidal/depressive black metal.” More often, he is labeled as “ambient” or “atmospheric.” While crushingly depressive, Malefic’s Xasthur has little else in common with bands that prominently showcase self-mutilation or feature explicit references to suicide: Malefic’s style is significantly more reserved (reclusively private as a rule of thumb) and uses mostly abstract language.
Your typical Xasthur album has a fairly constant, repetitive drum beat and the same is true with the riffs. Vocals are used only sparingly and cannot be understood without a lyric print off. Synthesizers are used frequently, though emphasis is given to the rhythmic repetition of dissonant chords. Melodic passages are featured maddeningly low in the mix, so low that if one were to casually listen to the album only once then practically every song would seem to be merely the same distorted drum-loop repeated over and over again. Listening to a Xasthur album many many times however eventually does reward the listener with a rich musical variation which was not immediately apparent. This is because of a conscious effort on the part of the musician to diminish the overall contrast to a point of near grey-on-grey: distinguishing the ideas within will require you to strain your ears and demands repeated listenings. If you don’t have the patience to sit down and give your undivided attention to these songs, or if you find this sort of presentation off-putting then you will never EVER like Xasthur. Simply put, this music is one hell of an acquired taste. I’ve heard that the sound quality is markedly more accessible on vinyl but getting your mits on a vinyl copy so long after the initial release means you’ll likely be paying a small fortune on ebay just to fund some aging misfit's drug habit. Pirated MP3’s are probably the worst place to start since you’ve got to contend with the loss of even more detail from the data compression in addition to the original low fidelity. The quality of your recording isn’t likely to make or break your opinion of Xasthur, just know that you’re not making it any easier on yourself by going with a low bit rate audio file.
Compared to other Xasthur releases Nocturnal Poisoning is probably the weakest if for no other reason than the whole trajectory of the Xasthur project is more-or-less an unending revision of the ideas showcased on this album and the demos which preceded it. The recoding quality of all the releases has been purposely lo-fi, but this initial release has a distinctly tinny aspect to the sound quality which disappears all-together on subsequent albums. Its difficult to give this album a percent review by comparison to “classic” black metal albums (one will invariably fail the album on the basis that it doesn’t adhere to those expectations) but it is also difficult to compare this album with the whole of the Xasthur library: anyone familiar with later releases inevitably comes to see the original songs differently after hearing so many subsequent revisions and variations on similar themes. 75% is probably the fairest approximation of this album’s worth, which while lower than I’d like to rate the album at least gives the reader some sense of the room that exists for improvement on subsequent releases.
After going to the dentist, I'm sitting here in the city library with half of my mouth numb, with holes in my teeth filled with… “filling”… with the numbness now wearing off. Hold up, let’s sum up the situation again… With half of my mouth numb, I’m listening to Xasthur’s Nocturnal Poisoning (specifically “Soul Abduction Ceremony”) in the food department of a half-empty library three days after graduating from high school… you’ve gotta be shitting me. If that isn’t bleaker and more depressing than anything Xasthur has ever done, then I don’t know what is…
As a first full-length album, it’s pretty damn dark. You’ll no doubt be sucked into the lifeless, hopeless, empty void that is the music of Xasthur. It’s a rather muddled type of sound, with a big, fuzzy, space-like distortion of thin guitars in one giant mass. Along with virtually no bass, you can barely make out any riffs, as the songs are more like a mix of trance-like noises in unison with ambient sounds. If you have no clue as to what I’m saying, then eat some fish and read this again. This isn’t typical black metal – it doesn’t focus on riffs or melodies or hooks, but on feeding the mind with this sort of endless rhythm.
It’s kind of like… drone! Yeah, that’s what it is – an endless, droning “wah wah wah waaaaah!” of a repeated riff (sans any power behind it). The drums accompany this, but it barely stands out, since it is pretty quiet (as is everything) and does nothing but keep in step. The production isn’t stellar, but my standards may be too high since I just came out of a dentist’s office where adult contemporary music is played all day, everyday. I just finished listening to “A Gate Through Bloodstained Mirrors,” and I can’t even remember how it sounded. All that remains in my memory is that there was fuzz, distortion, vocals that sounded like a television without cable, and the sinister smell of dookie. That’s the problem with Malefic – your noise is too forgettable! Nonetheless, the production really helps the gloomy, drowned tone quite a bit. Everything sounds like it came out of a movie, since there is this dirty echo vibrant in every track.
The vocals, like I said, sound like some television being turned on and off, with there being no cable and the only thing you can see and hear is that hypnotizing black and white pixelated picture with that fucking annoying sound of something being forever shredded. Malefic’s vocals are literally incomprehensibly altered shrieks and screams that pop up one after another or in random places. They certainly add to the desperation that is… fuck, what song is this? Oh, the title track… wait, what!? I thought I just finished with “A Gate Through Bloodstained Mirrors!” How did I go from track three to track seven!? Where’s my fucking Mütiilation cover!? Damn, can’t believe I listened to them without knowing it. Oh well, the last track of the album makes up for it. It’s a haunting ambient track that brings out the desperation in life and a longing for the afterlife.
I really do enjoy some of Xasthur’s stuff, but honestly, this is elevator / lounge music at best. Not to say that it’s bad, but you can’t really focus on this sleep-inducing noise because there is no core to it – no central framework or idea that you can kick in the testicles and say, “that’s the pain I feel waking up everyday".
I had Xasthur on my list of items to buy for a while, I had heard from a lot of people how fantastic and depressive they were, and everywhere Nocturnal Poisoning was advertised it was praised as one of the most atmospheric and eerie albums ever to come out of black metal in recent years. Now I question what most people really define as ‘atmosphere’. Whatever the definition may be, the album has little to no atmosphere and I can honestly say the only good thing I got out of it was the urge to go out and get Vampires of Black Imperial Blood after hearing the Mutiilation cover. Otherwise, the album is a mess. Granted, its not exactly praised for its musical merits however musically what you will find is a foamy wash of repetitive guitar topped with cheesy, mismatched keyboards and vocals which have obviously been tampered with electronically. The music lacks direction and most songs end up sounding like a bit of a filler (especially the title track which clocks in at about fifteen minutes of boredom), needless to say doing little to enhance any trace of atmosphere which one could find.
The main downfall of the album is the keyboards which one will notice are quite dominant on almost every track. While Burzum used subtle melodies which complemented the rest of the music the keyboards on here are quite ham fisted, sounding like the soundtrack to a sixties horror movie. Otherwise the music is simply boring for the most part, with the exception of Black Imperial Blood, even though it wasn’t written by Malefic himself (and it should be known it is the only track minus the synths).
In short, some albums have killer riffs while others have great atmosphere and overall feel, equally managing to uphold the listener’s interest. However if the music doesn’t have either of those attributes you’ll find that it’s a tedious listen with not much to offer, and unfortunately Xasthur has managed to fall into this trap. Don’t be fooled by the hype surrounding the ‘suicidal black metal’ genre, because this album is a bit of a disappointment.
It is hard to review a band like Xasthur. There is always so many elements in their music that need pointing out. Overall, this album is a bit of a disappointment. Xasthur is a great band, and Malefic knows what he's doing, but this has got to be extremely overrated. Xasthur has been revered by metallers as the most evil, depressing, and "kvlt" band in existence. I've listened to the album, and I found nothing interesting or to my liking. Many changes can be made to this album to improve it. However, there are a few elements of this album which is appealing.
This album starts off in the most unnecessary way. The first three songs are entirely boring. Power chords, power chords, and more power chords is all you will hear. Occasionally, when the annoying buzz of the guitars and tapping of the drums stops, you will hear a decent piano piece. However, it doesn't help when almost every song sounds the same. For a long time, I've put this album away because half the album was so boring. If I'm not mistaken, the first few songs should be something to grab the listener's attention so that they are interested in the album. I guess that isn't an issue to Malefic.
After you get over the insanely boring songs, then you hear a Mutiilation cover. I usually think of cover songs as being slightly different than the originals. However, this cover sounds so.....exactly the same. It's almost as if Malefic had taken the Mutiilation song and just did his own vocals. It's kind of redundant and unnecessary. There's also a string of unnecessarily long songs. The song "Nocturnal Poisoning", is 15 minutes long. Now, I am a fan of long songs as much as the next guy, but don't play the same pattern of notes and measures for a full fifteen minutes. That is not being musical or artistic. That shows that you have run out of ideas, and you're looking to buy some time in the album.
The album ends with the song "Forgotten Depths of Nowhere". It is an entirely keyboard song. This song is important for many reasons. The first reason is because you get something different than the normal stuff that has been repeated a thousand times in the album. Second, the song adds a sense of closeur to the album. This isn't one of those songs that you can't tell is the ending of an album. Once you hear it, you know exactly what it is. Finally, this album gives you a view of what Malefic was trying to create in the album. The title of the album is "Nocturnal Poisoning". Nocturnal means, active at night. What you get through this album, is a scene of the setting sun at dusk, and the sun rising up again. The first few songs are the darkest of the album, and the rest gradually get lighter. By the end of this album, you get a sense of what the music is representing. This shape and form of the music is what makes it all worth it.
In conclusion, this album is fairly decent. If you are the type to listen to metal for its talent and "head-banging" rythem, then you will not find it. I recommend this album to anyone who can look past the surface of music and see deeper within. Just the shape and formation of this album is astounding. Talent isn't much, and the beginning isn't attractive. However, if you give it a chance, I'm sure that "Nocturnal Poisoning" will be on your top ten lists of great black metal albums.
(I don't give this score often. Only two or three other releases have achieved such unparalleled greatness.)
For me, this is one of the few releases that has ever attained a state of seeming perfection. I can think of no way that this release could possibly be improved, be it instrumentation, vocals, song writing, mixing, production etc. This is both the pinnacle of all the stuff Xasthur has ever recorded and released so far, and is the best release that has ever been exposed to the world by any similar so called "suicidal/depressive" Black Metal bands (a completely idiotic title in my opinion, but one that is familiar with everyone).
This album is comprised of eight tracks, one of which is a keyboard instrumental that nicely ends the album but has no other worth. Two of the others featured in slightly different versions on two previous releases and one is an extremely well done cover of Mütiilation that I would say is better than the original. Thus, only four "proper" tracks were written exclusively for this release. So, almost half of the tracks are stuff I've heard before in one capacity or another. It's not a problem though, as they are all excellently written and are in fact improved upon here. Seriously, the guitars (including bass) and keyboards are wonderfully interwoven and almost seem organic, as if they were living beings and had minds of their own. The song writing skills alone are enough to set Xasthur apart from most other bands. However, the things that separate these tracks from any other versions I've heard, and makes this release so special and for my money completely unsurpassable in this genre by Xasthur or anyone else, is the way they are delivered, the production and the mix. Basically, they fit the music perfectly and enhance the feelings of depression, sorrow and isolation that I believe Malefic was trying to capture.
All of the instruments apart from the drums (I'm including the vocals here as well, as they are massively distorted and are basically an instrument itself), blend together creating an immense wall of sound. Different guitars, keyboards and vocals fade in and out as each riff passes. Occasionally, a keyboard or unusually for Black Metal, a bass line, will pierce through the mix and float above the music below or emphasise a particular riff. Incredible restraint has been shown here as this only occurs a handful of times throughout the entire album. Most artists would have used this technique to death before the end of the album, but with Xasthur it is used sparingly and still seems fresh at the albums ending.
I also really have to mention the drum machine. It's one of the best I've ever heard, which basically means it doesn't sound like a machine. Either that or the mix or the way it was recorded has expertly/inadvertently hidden it's possible shortcomings. The machine doesn't have too much asked of it as the beats are, for the most part, simple double bass or kick-snare-kick-snare rhythms as one would expect. However, their volume alters from riff to riff, which must have taken an extreme effort and dedication to do and also adds another dimension to the music which is most noticable when you listen to future Xasthur and notice that this feature is, unfortunately, absent.
Overall, this is a very good, haunting release from one of the US's finest bands. Unfortunately, Malefic seems to be trying to pump out as much material as he can with six releases in one year alone, most of which have been fairly uninspired and apart from a few smatterings of brilliance, they have been mostly worthless and forgettable. Still, at least he seemingly spent a lot of effort to create and perfect this release which I believe will stand the test of time. It certainly has for me, as I've owned it since it's release year and I still play it regularly without getting bored of it.
Xasthur are one of the few bands in black metal that still seem to actually be in the pursuit of darkness. "Nocturnal Poisoning" is a record that reflects a wonderfully hideous tonality that I wish was made more often in a scene dominated by bedroom black metal that lacks neither orginality and atmosphere. Xasthur of course, have these things in spades. The production on this record is hazy and "cold" in a truly ancient manner that reflects all the instruments, but doesn't fall into the "rock and roll" production trap. The performances are just maniacal with the shifting beats, swirling guitars and suffering vocals leading you through catacombs of black thought. Needless to say, I am impressed by the violent surge on this record.
While no one track is bad on this record my favorites to list include "Soul Abduction Ceremony", "Nocturnal Poisoning" and "A Walk Beyond Utter Blackness". Malefic conjures up many strange atmospheres on this record, and while some may appeal to you more than others - none of them are poorly created. This man deserves a medal for this compositional oddity. It's not entirely devoid of music, but it's also able to lull you into a strange trance that both kicks and confounds the hell out of you.
Xathur may be the best one man band working in the black metal area that leans more towards ambient/atmospheric black metal. Few bands have dared to reach out so far, yet capture a strong sense of composition in quite some time. If you like any form of black metal, ambient music or extreme sounds of any kind...this is a must own.
BUY OR DIE!!!
In recent years, the project of Malefic, Xasthur, has become quite a common name among the black metal hordes around the world. Most US black metal can be easily discarded from collections due to the weak value of the bands around here, but out of the small pile of bands that has surprised me, Xasthur is one of them.
Upon a first listen to the band, you will hear some of the darkest forms that black metal has ever formed into. You'll hear some of the most depressing shapes that black metal can come in. Dare I say it's even darker and far more depressing than bands such as Mutiilation, Burzum, and other bands who have influenced this musical journey, known as Xasthur.
The vocals are just plain painful to hear. Painful in a delightful sense is what I mean. The agony of the vocals fits the mood perfectly throughout this release making it an excellent addition to the overall sound. The vocals sound like the harshest screams you have ever heard from far in the distance. A distant cry that continues to haunt you in this release.
Another noticable aspect of the band is the simple, yet powerful delivery of the synth and keyboards on this album. Unlike most bands that fuck with synths and keys on their albums, they're not very intruding. Actually sometimes the keyboard interludes you will hear on this album only make the experience of this hateful void even more powerful.
Atmospherically nothing can destroy Xasthur. Most black metal bands cannot achive the complete aura of darkness and hatred as this release has proven to be. You're thrown into a world where there is no light. Eternal suffering is all that exists. The aura of Xasthur's music is far superior to even the most atmospheric of black metal bands.
Nocturnal Poisoning is indeed one of the greatest pieces of black metal art ever to mold by the hands of humans. Some of the most depressing, and dark compositions i've found are included on this opus. If you can find this release, I would heavily recommend it! You will not regret owning something so brilliant!
Ah, Xasthur. Scott Conner's occult moniker used to be one of the most hard-working names in the USBM scene. He churned out album after album of gloomy, trancelike soundscapes layered with ethereal keyboards and tons of guitar tracks layered on top of each other. Recently, though, Scott's gone off his rocker. Signing with Moribund, he's released 2 CDs this year, both of which are average at best and have little effort put into them. He's also been guilty of porting previous tracks to later albums. Fortunately, this is from a time before he got lazy and turned into a stalemate in the USBM scene.
This album is very epic, rich in sound quality, evil, and eerie to listen to all at the same time. Throughout its astounding length, you will find yourself drifting in and out of actually listening to this album and experiencing it. It really is that otherworldly.
Many people will accuse this of sounding far too much like Burzum; shrugging off any credibility whatsoever and pegging the horrifying tag of "CLONE" on Xasthur's bloody mass. This isn't the case I don't feel. While Burzum was detached and otherworldly, with a host of horrifically disturbing vocal arrangements, this is much less the case. While obviously not as brilliant as Burzum, and letting that comparison pass, this is more organic and personal sounding. It feels as if Xasthur is channeling itself through Scott's earthly form and speaking directly to you in unintelligible(y) evil shrieks. The vocals aren't nearly as choral as Varg's eponymous "pain screaming," but they suffice pretty well. They're blended into the background. They somewhat remind me of a detached spirit wandering through the Outer and Inner Planes of Existence, trying to find someone who will hear it out. The guitar tracks are multi-faceted and shimmeringly beautiful, yet horrifyingly evil and ice cold at the same time. Another deviation from typical Burzum-cloning are the well done keyboards in this album. Xasthur really hit the nail on the head with this idea, as they provide a very epic tone for the album. They're used sparingly to create atmosphere and a distinct melody, which the guitars sometimes lack.
Definitely check this album out if you want some good/great USBM before it became trendy to be faux-Norwegian hypocrites.
Album Title: Nocturnal Poisoning
Label: Blood Fire Death
This is the second full-length album from Xasthur, a one-man American band that plays cold, depressive black metal.
For the most part, the guitar here is a thick, Burzumesque multilayered drone, through which clear riffs occasionally appear. The drums are so low in the mix that they're nearly non-existent, though this is honestly a plus, as they don't break the seemingly endless flow of the music. This release is heavy on the keyboards - one can hear a definite Manes influence in the way they float above the rest of the music, providing a counterpoint for the rest of the music. Vocals are screamed, and seem quite far away when compared to the rest of the mix.
Xasthur's songwriting is very complex. Most of the time, several layers of guitar and sustained keyboards will be sounding, only to be suddenly replaced by a minimalist guitar or key breakdown. Once the breakdown is done, a subtly shifted version of the original melody returns. This style creates a bleak, oppressive atmosphere of inevitable disaster, one that both calms and unnerves the listener.
The production also deserves mention. Some might claim that it's not clear enough, but I would call it absolutely perfect. Quiet sections are perfectly audible, yet once a few more layers of sound are added, the guitar and keys fade together into a wall of echoing noise. Add to this the genius mixing job on the vocals, which seems to set them far beyond this world, and you've got a production that complements the music brilliantly.
I can't praise this album enough. Though the Burzum and Manes influences are quite clearly heard, there's some extraordinary creativity on display here, enough to make this essential for any devotee of raw, depressive black metal. Those who enjoy this should also seek Xasthur's first album, "A Gate Through Bloodstained Mirrors".
Standout tracks: "In the Hate of Battle", "A Gate Through Bloodstained Mirrors", "A Walk Beyond Utter Blackness"
Review by Vorfeed: http://www.vorfeed.net