Fresh in the racks at Amoeba Music Hollywood just today is the wonderfully bleak and dissonant Portal of Sorrow (via Disharmonic Variations), a truly collaborative effort by the one-man depressive black metal band Xasthur and ethereal folkie Marissa Nadler. Scott Conner, aka Malefic, the man behind Xasthur, recently announced that this would be the absolute final release under the Xasthur banner. Oh! And what a glorious end it is! Upon first spin, Portal is easily recognizable as the best of Conner’s last few releases and will likely hold up as one of the touchstones in the Xasthur discography and beyond -- wherever Conner decides to go next.
The album announces its individuality in the Xasthur catalog with acoustic guitars that swirl around a plodding dirge enveloped by the ghostly purrs of Nadler. Eventually this lovely and melancholic breath is absconded away by the brief shattering sounds of glass and horror-film -orchestra stabs that leads into the cascade of bizarrely mixed buzzsaw guitar, Deathrock-like bass warbles and clattering cardboard box drums of the second track, “Broken Glass Christening.” The song is then shortstopped by an ominous piano, Malefic’s anguished shrieks and further apparitional lacing from Nadler. For all the album’s sorrowful moments, there are flashes in half-light, like the lovely “Mourning Tomorrow,” which infiltrates the album’s tracklist like a Folk-Noir Cocteau Twins. The LP lacks any monotonous riffing or repetition usually found in the gloomier end of the Black Metal genre, and aside from the above mentioned instrumentation, incorporates synthesizer and organ which supply some very dreamy yet crestfallen ambiance.
If Portal of Sorrow is anything to go on, Marissa Nadler fans may have quite the unexpected album on their hands when the chanteuse releases her next solo LP, which is currently in the works. While Portal is Conner’s affair in composition, the album’s dim light shines from the scary corners of both musicians' minds and hopefully has opened up a new world, not just for Malefic but Marissa as well. The album maybe controversial among the narrowly-focused “trueheads” of grim Black Metal but no one really cares what they with such limited palates think anyway. Their loss, our win.
Conner has stated he has every intention of writing, recording and releasing music again, though he refuses to identify what it will be like other than of an equally dark tone. Portal of Sorrow, in the end, is both a death knell for Xasthur/Malefic and a herald of rebirth for Scott Conner. Xasthur is Dead, Long Live Xasthur!
Listen: "Karma/Death" from Portal of Sorrow
Amoeba Music Hollywood has quantity of Portal of Sorrow as well as many Xasthur catalog titles. Be sure to also check out Marrisa Nadler’s many gems in the folk section! Portal of Sorrow will also be available on vinyl via Hydra Head later in the year.