Xothist (self-titled): astral black metal psychedelic soundscapes of pain, torment and damnation

XOTHIST

Xothist, self-titled, Fallen Empire Records, vinyl (2013)

Remastered and reissued in 2013 by Fallen Empire Records, this self-titled debut by the Colorado BM act is an intriguing affair. Now more widely available than in 2011, when there were only 46 copies of the album available on cassette, the recording preserves its lo-fi origins in its production which lingers in a blurry no-man’s zone that sounds amateurish yet is very polished in other respects. The recording combines straight-out raw black metal, dark space ambience and experimental drone in a way that hints at its sinister and perhaps misanthropic agenda.

Initially seeming quite primitive, hesitant and awkward, the music grows and develops through unstructured drone texture and blunt blackness into a sleek beast of splintery, spitting tremolo guitar riffs and a wildly roaring blizzard vocal. The depressive BM act Xasthur comes to mind in the desperate phantom voices crying from afar but otherwise the music’ style here is sharper and poses a strong contrast in sound to the faint vocals. Drumming is solid and steady, and comes over as a deep ominous presence. In spite of the heavy bristling distortion, there’s quite a lot of detail and variation in the music as it advances: the lead guitar is very squiggly, ascending hill and descending dale, and the drums start to mix rhythms and pace. The distorted voices keep on wailing and the music quickly becomes deranged and races off into a blind alley of its own panicky making. The energy and relentless insanity of this part of the recording make it a major highlight. Eventually the torment dies down into a low troubled moaning cold-space ambience which leaves the listener deep in an isolated black vacuum, with nothing but feelings of dread and abandonment.

Track IV might be the oddest on the whole recording: its introduction seems to conjure up images of a remote fairground in which fairy ghosts float by and implore listeners to ride the broken-down merry-go-round and fallen Ferris wheel before everything is washed away by corrosive rain showers of guitar, speedy percussion and more furry singing. The riffing is very melodic and surprisingly emotional, embracing hope, foreboding and desperation. This part of the recording is smartly presented, very sharp and highly aggressive. About a third of the way through the second half of the recording, the music becomes very bleak and doomy, the vocals howling in vain for relief, the vibrato guitars bleeding raw pained tones and the drums leading a funereal procession.

There’s a final defiant blast of raw BM glory as unseen forces collect their power for one final chance to spew their bitterness and rage at an indifferent universe. Here the music aspires to a grand and rebellious majesty, as if challenging the very universe itself for dominion over all life within it.

The whole work is remarkable for its ability to express a range of emotions with limited instrumentation: raw distorted guitars, drums, bass and a sparing use of field recordings to suggest cold alien worlds of abandonment, disuse and ruin. In this environment the scuzzy voices find their calling: lost behind a solid and impenetrable wall of often fiery and blistering BM, melancholy-to-dismal near-doom passages, demented lead guitar and blast-beat drum psychedelia, soundscapes of decay, and deep black space, in their desperation the voices scream the pain and anguish of souls in eternal black torment. You come away with your nerves frayed and on edge at the dreadful fate these entities must have suffered, knowing that there you go but for the grace of God … or Satan …

Contact: Fallen Empire Records

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