Subliminal Genocide

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It's hardly been a case of overnight success, but 2006's Subliminal Genocide arguably confirms the arrival of Xasthur, and its one-man mastermind, Malefic, as one of America's -- indeed the world's -- most respected and prolific black metal visionaries. Stoking the fires of Hell, the aptly named instrumental "Disharmonic Convergence" makes for a brief but ominous introduction into the absolute leviathan that is "The Prison of Mirrors"; an utterly devastating maelstrom of a song that advances with the inexorable terror of a cyclone, while unleashing what most acolytes agree is Malefic's secret weapon: his petrifying, spine-tingling howl. Over the course of 12 mesmerizing minutes, the track covers so much ground that one wouldn't begrudge Malefic had he packed up his corpse-paint and blood-spattered briefcase and headed home for the night when it was done. But instead, Subliminal Genocide only delves ever deeper into the murkier depths of so-called "kvlt" black metal by means of several gloomy instrumentals ("Pyramid of Skulls," "Loss and Inner Destruction") and a series of low-fidelity epics ("Trauma Will Always Linger," "Arcane and Misanthropic Projection" and the title track), so crude, decrepit and inaccessible, that it may sound like some kind of recording mistake to unprepared listeners. All of it is very much intentional, though, and, after spending over an hour trapped inside the pitch-black, claustrophobic vacuum of Malefic's sepulchral edifice, it's also quite understandable if many listeners decide they prefer Xasthur's mercifully shorter mini-releases. In fact, these raw and decaying sounds may prove too much, even for serious black metal enthusiasts to see through to the sophisticated and inspired songwriting contained within. Whatever the case, their very extremity is what has led some critics to suggest that American black metal acts like Xasthur are overtaking the long reigning Scandinavians (most of whom are stagnant or progressing beyond the genre's boundaries in the early '00s) at the outermost reaches of black metal innovation. Maybe Hell has frozen over.

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