Once you go black metal, you can’t go back… or can you?
Reinvention isn’t rare, but it doesn’t often come with a shift as vivid as Xasthur’s. Back in 1995, Scott “Malefic” Conner created the moniker as an outlet for his brooding, atmospheric black metal. Though rarely willing to admit it, Conner helped flesh out a genre that blew up in years to come. By collaborating with everyone from Sunn O))) to Leviathan, he proved to be a force that accepted growth and change. But then, in 2010, he decided to return the name, instead releasing music as Nocturnal Poisoning, which took inspiration from bluegrass, country, and singer-songwriter-like acoustic guitar. The sound came as a surprise to longtime fans. But for Conner, it fit snugly.
“I’m glad that I’m able to make pieces fit together better with acoustic playing and actually make complete songs with it,” says Conner. “I wanted to make more things or anything possible musically.”
In 2015, he failed to see the point in keeping the Nocturnal Poisoning moniker running. With a little less bluegrass but just as much acoustic strumming, Conner picked the Xasthur name back up. With one studio album, last year’s Subject to Change, to his name, he’s slowly changing the narrative he spent nearly two decades building by hand.
Though Xasthur is basically a continuation of what Conner was doing as Nocturnal Poisoning, it sounds as if it takes on its own darker subtleties, like a shadow looms on the edge of each track instead of the possible sunshine folk often beckons with. Within the last couple years, he’s added Rachel Roomian and Chris Hernandez as members of the band, fleshing out that sound so it becomes fuller, increasingly intricate, and more expansive.
Fans will likely jump in at this point to correct genre labels. Xasthur’s revival isn’t technically folk in the protest sense or the flower-power way. It’s acoustic black metal. Is Conner swapping electric guitars for acoustic ones? Yes, and while that doesn’t immediately change the content or the delivery, it does swap what comes to mind when you think of his music.
The drone-like ambiance and engrossing nature of it remains. The darkness still lurks behind him. If those didn’t, if he went full-on folk, then he would have chosen a new moniker for the project. “Because I’ve been playing music since 1996 as Xasthur, the music needs to change over the years, but I already tried changing the name, and it didn’t go so well,” he explains. “So I decided to keep the Xasthur name.” Simple as that.
Now that he’s getting into the rhythm of the Xasthur life again, Conner has his eyes set on the future: A new album will drop in 2018. And because it comes from this folk-like backdrop, it offers a slight change in perspective. “It should be a little more discordant or unsettling than the last few,” he says. “I think it’s more about the subject matter being easier to understand. It’s not some vague fantasy or restricted lingo… It’s reality. If reality doesn’t give you much to write about, you may not be living in one. It’s getting easier to write because it’s not holding back everything I see or have seen.”
While he keeps his gaze set on what Xasthur can expand into, it’s important fans do the same. The confusion surrounding his project has to end.
“People think I’m not a human or want to believe that I’m only human—seems to be nothing in the middle,” he says. “Another thing that’s misunderstood is the music itself, past and present. The music I’m doing today is dismissed as something simple or fun, and it’s neither. It’s more negative than I wish for it to be, really, but that’s life usually. The music is just more complicated than people would like to think.”
XASTHUR, MARISSA NADLER, JOHANNA WARREN. MON 5.22. MIDDLE EAST UPSTAIRS, 472 MASS. AVE., CAMBRIDGE. 7PM/18+/$12. MIDEASTOFFERS.COM