Some of you reading this might be surprised to see the name Xasthur gracing the halls of our strictly no-metal-allowed column (even though that’s been…kinda not true, but still). While the project might be best known for their lo-fi black metal albums from the late 90’s and early 2000’s, in the recent years, the project that was once called finished in 2010 has been reborn as a dark-folk, doomgrass experience, and in the intervening years it is quite fair to say that a lot has happened. Victims of the Times tells the stories of this gap period.
Xasthur is, was and always will be the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Scott Conner, no matter the style they play. Victims of the Times is not Conner’s first foray into dark folk, as almost immediately upon the dissolution of the Xasthur name he came back with the folk group Nocturnal Poisoning, which rebranded itself back into Xasthur but kept the new style. However, a lot of personal turmoil happened between restarting Xasthur and the release of Victims, events that directly influence the lyrical and musical themes of the album. “I lost my home in the middle of the making of that last record,” says Conner. “I had been moving a lot, moving from place to place, many being temporary. The ‘I need to be in a cabin in the woods with isolation and candlelight to write music’ type of tale did not fit my situation. I had to learn how to make my music anywhere without such luxuries. Since I never know how long I’ll be somewhere, and because I’m always hundreds of miles apart from anyone, things changed with people, motives, goals, and expectations of all involved.” Homelessness, poverty, street living and drug abuse are heavy themes that run through the lyrics of Victims, but they are honest, compelling stories that are delivered in Conner’s stark poetry and deadpan croon.
“The foundation of this album should be considered ‘LIVE’, because each song was individually recorded live without any studio magic or technology. I worked on my own without a beat or metronome, which resulted in a raw production, but that is how it has always been in the XASTHUR tradition.” All of the songs on Victims were recorded wherever Conner could find time and space to, which include porches, hotels and living rooms all over the US from 2016-2020, without any assistance or tricks. On Victims, Conner remains the principal songwriter and instrumentalist, but is joined by the mononymic Chris and Joe, who add additional bass and guitar to the songs, respectively. While there might be no distortion, blast beats or buzzsaw guitars on Victims, there are quite a number of trademark Xasthur touches that make this release fit better into their discography than one might think. Firstly, the lo-fi, raw production is exactly what you would expect from a Xasthur release. Secondly, the instrumental prowess of Conners is on full display, and maybe even more noticeable without the wall of distortion hiding it. Deft fingerpicking, bluesy melodies and runs and complicated chordal runs are the trademark of the songs on Victims, and Conners shows himself to be just as competent at American folk as he was and probably still is at black metal. Thirdly, this is an album that is bleak and almost overwhelmingly depressing. It might be a barrier to entry for those unfamiliar with Xasthur, but that sense of morbid melancholy has always been a hallmark of their sound, and while the instruments might not be electric, there is almost no way you could mistake this for anything other than Xasthur if you listen closely.
Xasthur have definitively stated that their black metal days are over, which is bound to upset some fans happy to see the name return to their radar. However, in my opinion and speaking as someone who absolutely loved the early black metal work that Conner put out, I don’t think I’m going miss it all that much, not compared to what the project is doing now. “Unique” is a word that I throw out here just as much as “cinematic,” but I stand by it in almost all cases, but especially for Victims of the Times. What Xasthur are doing now is truly unique, and it is something that should be taken notice of and honestly listened to. We have a very bad habit of dismissing the stories of those who live on the margins of society, and these stories shed light on and breed true empathy for those who need and deserve it the most.