poetix (old content)

oh build your ship of death

Paint the Devil on the Wall

Cold Me

Some elements of Xasthur’s sonic world will be familiar to anyone who’s ever plugged an electric guitar directly into the line-in socket of a PC: the aural murk and imbalance of 2006’s Subliminal Genocide are as much artifacts of the recording technology as they are a reflection of the dreary hatefulness of creator Malefic’s inner world. The compositional structure - layered blocks of sound, starting abruptly, looping interminably, then fading or cutting out - similarly has a lot to do with the way “projects” are laid out in tools such as Cubase (been there, done that). This is unmistakeably the sound of bedroom metal, a genre I’m minded to nickname Doomgazer for its grimly dedicated introversion.

I can’t go along with attempts to christen this stuff “metal’s own Burial” - it’s too saturated and airless for that. Black metal is relentlessly entropic, committed to a one-way temporality in which intensities run inexorably down to zero and stay there, forever; there are no ghosts in this house, only cupboards full of corpses. The state of mind suggested by Subliminal Genocide is one of trancelike contemplation of the ashes of the cosmos - the logical end-point of Xasthur’s misanthropic individualism.

If there is anything “out of joint” here it is space (relations of pitch) rather than time (rhythmic patterning). The wide chorus effect used on the guitars during some of the album’s quieter moments makes them sound curdlingly out-of-tune with themselves, while the frequent harmonic shifts between distantly-related minor chords suggest a tonal universe in which there is no progression, only substitution - a universe of perpetual suspension, in which resolution can never arrive (and would have no meaning if it did). It is in perhaps this spirit that Xasthur’s frosty logo evokes the endless winter desired by Narnia’s Ice Queen, the “cold world” of dejection.

Xasthur logo

Black metal’s associations with genocidal racism are neither accidental nor altogether straightforward. While some practitioners claim that the entire human race is despicable, pathetic and generally unworthy of survival, others take the “Nietzschean” view that only 99% or so are wholly beneath contempt; in this context the racists are - so to speak - moderates, rightly derided by the serious for their sentimental belief in the general viability of “Aryan” human stock. All the same, the most generously all-encompassing loathing of humanity will tend to find itself detained from time to time by specific objects of contempt. Racism provides a crude first-cut matrix of discrimination, but the hierarchy narrows to a point and then winks out: there’s no-one at the top of the pile.

This is what unites the racism of Celine, Lovecraft and Houellebecq with that of Varg Vikernes, the notorious singer of Burzum. It goes without saying that his pronouncements on “Jews” and “the negroid races” are cretinous, but it is not as the particular depraved fascist dipshit that he happens to be that Vikernes interests us. The belief that the specific worthlessness of human beings is rooted in their biological essence, which is everywhere corrupted and unworthy, may motivate some to seek redemption in programmes of racial purification, the “cleansing” through mass-death of a still-perfectible humanity; but as “race” is itself a nebulous concept sustained through appeals to mythological authenticity, such a project can find no halting-point. Vikernes may yet believe that blood-purity will be the salvation of his mythical Nordic races, but one imagines that the results of a DNA test of his own “racial” substance might well prove a disappointment to him.

Xasthur’s music seems mercifully free of such stupidities; indeed, Malefic’s claim that his singing addresses - albeit perhaps in order to intensify - the feelings of shame and worthlessness unwittingly entertained by his own listeners shows that he is uninterested in providing a sound-track for the depredations of some putative master-race.

Insofar as Xasthur’s music is at all “Nietzschean”, it is so because of its obsession with the “death of God”; but its god-less universe is structurally identical to the “one God universe” derided by Burroughs. The place of God is empty, but not closed; the cosmos whirls to extinction around an evacuated throne. As with Lovecraft’s mythos, Xasthur’s aural chaosphere is oriented towards the confabulation/disclosure of an existential horror, a point of utter abandonment where all meanings derived from the obsolete value-system of judeo-christo-humanist narcissism collapse. But “God” has been “dead” for some time now; there is something almost nostalgic about the way Black metal hoists its dead flag to the top of that particular pole.

Perhaps this is where any “hauntological” valence in Xasthur might be located: the reapparition, out of its proper time, of such an abyssal mourning for God (albeit in the guise of contempt and loathing), such a profound faith in the potency of the concept of a loving and generous Creator (in whose absence all must surely be waste and horror). In the titles and lyrics of Black metal songs you will find references to religious symbols, concepts and items of liturgical paraphernalia almost entirely forgotten by the wider culture: does not such studious blasphemy betray a perverse attachment to its object?