Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Xasthur - To Violate the Oblivious


Unfortunately Xasthur and the rest of the ambient black metal scene has had the least success out of all the metal genres in existence. Although there have been some semi-successful ambient black artists like Xasthur, Elffor, and Woods of Desolation; the majority of the ambient black (sometimes referred to as depressive black metal) population has continued to be extremely underground. But the people that do enjoy it (myself included) are diehard supporters that listen to numerous bands from that area. Xasthur has become one of my favorite bands next to Opeth, Breaking Benjamin, and Decrepit Birth. Now anyone can listen to Malefic (the sole member of Xasthur) and be able to tell that he is not an amazing musician that holds unusual technical skills. In fact, he’s a pretty mediocre musician as far as metal standards go. The reason why people like me enjoy Xasthur and other similar artists is not because of the musicianship, but because of the ability the artist has to stimulate intense emotions within the listener. Believe me, it’s not something that you will instantly appreciate; it took me over a year before I truly came to appreciate and enjoy listening to Xasthur.

Ambient black can have many different sides. One of the sounds it has is a very melodic sound created with slow tempos and highly distorted guitars that sounds beautiful. Some bands that do this would be Woods of Desolation, Gris, and Blutklinge. Another one of the sounds is that really out-of-tune, dark, depressing sound that seems like an auditory brain scan of Charles Manson. There are also some bands like Velvet Cacoon that mix in amounts of traditional black metal with their music. Xasthur literally reaches out to all of these areas plus others. To Violate the Oblivious is an album that covers many different sounds and moods rather than primarily focusing on a certain sound like many of Xasthur’s other records.

The two minute intro track is Malefic demonstrating a beautiful improvisation on the keyboards. The root chords in the second song are very melodic. But the lead guitar parts cover more of a traditional black metal sound with some abstract licks. The drumming is faster than what you would normally hear from other ambient black artists, but it doesn’t take away the relaxing vibe from the music. To Violate the Oblivious is also where Malefic starts using a lot more keyboards to back up the music.

What I may have described before about Xasthur’s basic sound probably sounds a bit unpleasant. Honestly, melodic music touches everyone in some way or another. Xasthur’s music is one of the most beautiful sounds ever to reach my ears. Although it has a thick layer of low production quality, bad tuning, and high distortion disguising it, after listening to it over and over again, you start to notice the downsides becoming more transparent and eventually seeing the beauty within the core.

The only reason why I like this album better than Subliminal Genocide is because it doesn’t have those seemingly pointless and overused interludes throughout the record. Since the album doesn’t have those obstacles that appear, it becomes a constant flowing river of beauty, ambience, and relaxation that pulls you in as soon as you turn it on.

The guitar distortion on this album is my favorite out of all the other Xasthur records. It’s not too high-pitched, there’s not too much fuzz, not too narrow sounding but not too wide either, and even though it has a low sound quality, it still sounds clear and crisp. There are some songs where the guitar drones on for the entire track that create the atmosphere that completely encloses you and shuts you out from the outside world. There is one song that touches me the most and creates the most intense emotions within me, and that is the last track, Walker of Dissonant Worlds.

Walker of Dissonant Worlds is an instrumental track that consists completely of guitar tracks. The only official Xasthur music video is one of this song that has someone walking around with a camera following Malefic himself through his house and out onto a train track. The most unique thing about this video is that after the camera finishes following Malefic, it travels through parts of downtown Los Angeles and shows the homeless. I’m going to be honest and say that this video is very depressing and unfortunately true. None of it was staged and the homeless men and women filmed are sometimes high or obviously insane. A sign that one of the people holds up has a very rebellious and angry message that reads “The pain Jesus experienced is nothing compared to mine”. Some of you may be asking why Malefic would choose this to be in his video. The answer lies in the lyrics that he writes. The song also sounds completely different and creates an entirely different emotion in the video than it does when you’re just listening to it.

This album is filled with depression, anger, beauty, bliss, relaxation, hope, regret, and melody. This is one of my favorite albums of all-time and I would suggest that you look it up. I will warn you that you shouldn’t be surprised if the music speaks out to you as being repulsive; so try to be understanding that this has an acquired taste and possibly isn’t your cup of tea.  I would give this album a perfect score. Xasthur is a project I will never forget and I will never stop listening to even though it is no longer in existence.