Xasthur Credit: courtesy the artist

When black metal reached American shores in the early 90s, it started a movement of artists trying to re-create the chilling, nihilistic sounds of their Norwegian forefathers—and it didn’t get much better than Xasthur. Formed in 1995 and operated mostly as the solo project of Malefic (aka Scott Conner), Xasthur embodied everything that was great about black metal while improving upon it. Staying completely underground and mainly sharing his massive discography via self-released tapes and CDs, Malefic appropriated the harsh, dissonant tremolo guitars and blast beats of Burzum and Dark Throne, adding personal lyrics and sweeping, mournful progressions to stir up a depth and beauty never before heard in the genre. By the mid-aughts Xasthur records were coming out on Hydra Head, and Malefic’s signature inhuman shriek was cropping up on to tracks by SunnO))) and Twilight—he really seemed to be hitting his stride just when he abruptly ended the project in 2010. Five years later, Xasthur made a sudden return, and last fall its first new record since coming back, Subject to Change, came out on Malefic’s own Disharmonic Variations label. On it, the next-level black metal of the past is gone, traded in for dark, intricate neofolk. It’s an unexpected turn, and kind of a weird one to grasp, but the new songs still capture the same twisted, unsettling bleakness of Xasthur’s best metal tracks.   v