It is a sad day for some Black Metal fans out there, as Xasthur (or more specifically, the ‘one man band’ behind the project known as ‘Malefic’, or Scott Connor to close friends) has decided to close the chapter after just over 15 years. As a final legacy, he has decided to release a compilation album of re-mixed tracks, and some unreleased ones in the form of ‘Nightmares at Dawn’. Xasthur, I feel, are on of the better known bands of the genre; who choose to take the ‘necro’ path of sounding gritty, rough, and recording an album that sounds as if it was mastered on a 1980′s answering machine cassette. No hi-fi production qualities or pretentiousness here, just pure refined black metal anger committed to tape.
Compilation albums as a rule, can be something of a mixed bag – which can be viewed in two ways; a means of a neatly provided ‘best of’ album of a band who you’ve never checked out before or something created just to keep people going in the meantime on a lengthy hiatus. Or, to put it in a cynical manner a period of writer’s block. In this case, it sorts of sides with the former to a certain point. It is, however, as a Xasthur fan interesting to hear the reinterpretations of previously released tracks such as ‘Prison of Mirrors’, ‘Screaming at Forgotten Fears’, and ‘Suicide in Dark Serenity’. The preference of original or reinterpreted track would vary from listener to listener, never entirely agreeing on the best virtues of the tracks. To be perfectly honest, I much prefer the original interpretations. ‘Prisoner in Mirrors’ loses a lot of the power and brute force that made the track on my personal favourites originally, as a perfect case in point. The mix for the track sounds strangely anaemic and something that shouldn’t have really seen the light of day, ditto the same sentiments for ‘Screaming at Forgotten Fears’.
The strangest track by far, is Black Sabbath‘s ‘A National Acrobat’ – poured through Malefic‘s specially patented ‘necro fuzzy black metal filter’ that turns the original in a supremely doomed up black metal stomp along. It sounds like an extremely weird track to cover, but somehow Malefic manages to pull this off, although with the nature of this being a compilation album the track is obviously an out-take that ends abruptly which I felt had potential. I only wished that it lasted longer, which is a shame.
The mastering of the album is somewhat odd, I feel. The nature of Xasthur was originally a ‘super necro kvlt’ black metal band, as I mentioned earlier. The best way to explain the mastering is comparing a Weight Watchers food item to the original, where in the quest to make it lean and less fattening and healthy they have somehow removed the flavour of it so it tastes completely bland and uninspiring.
To conclude, this album is only for the Xasthur fan to complete their collection, and would be a waste of money for someone who has never heard of the band before. In the case of a new fan, the best way to start off is look out for the ‘Funeral Being’ and ‘Nocturnal Poisoning’ albums and work your way from there as a good basis to get into them. You wouldn’t go far wrong choosing that path, and the CD wouldn’t run the risk of becoming a somewhat expensive drinks coaster. This said, I welcome that Malefic has chosen to close the chapter with some interesting and curious interpretations of previous tracks, and die hards will appreciate this release more than most listeners.