Defective Epitaph

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Over the course of the third millennium's first decade, the black metal project known as Xasthur steadily emerged as one of this extreme genre's most consistent, prolific, and visionary artists, thanks to a slew of albums and split releases featuring an unlikely blend of expertly conceived songwriting and intentionally lo-fi, even amateurish production standards. But while in the past this undoubtedly strange contradiction in terms never seemed like anything but an advantage for Xasthur's reclusive and mysterious mastermind, Malefic, the bellicose Californian may have gone and blown up his chemistry lab with 2007's Defective Epitaph. Quite possibly named that for a reason, the album feels surprisingly chaotic and under-inspired, with the opening shambles of "Soulless Elegy" (a drunken, stunted fragment of an idea) prefacing a whole string of conspicuously unfocused, dare we say somewhat unfinished-sounding tracks (see "Purgatory Spiral," "Malignant Prophecy," "Funerals Drenched in Apathy," etc.), whose nebulous chimes, shuffling zombie rhythms, and horrified cries emanate from the depths in alarmingly lifeless fashion. Sure, "lifeless" may have been the actual plan here, but the fact remains that Malefic's undead corpse doesn't really start rattling the old coffin with convincing violence -- nor enough of his his always spine-chilling, ultra-distorted shrieks -- until the fifth track in, "Oration of Ruin" (which is reminiscent of earliest, uncompromisingly inaccessible Bathory). And for an artist who staked much of his reputation on expansive, multi-faceted epics, Malefic only pushes Xasthur past the eight-minute mark for Defective Epitaph's closing triplet: the first of which, "A Memorial to the Waste of Life," combines stellar moments with inexplicably off-tempo passages; while the second and third, "The Only Blood That Pours Is Yours" and "Unblessed Be...," generally revert to the aforementioned, tiresomely minimalist approach. So what gives? Did Malefic have a particularly bad day down at the cemetery, or are these inferior leftovers assembled from previous Xasthur recording sessions, perhaps? Difficult to say, and certainly Malefic will likely be as "mum" on the subject as he ever is, if asked; but the bottom line is that Defective Epitaph feels like a rare misstep on Xasthur's long, and mostly triumphant road to Hell.

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