The sixth full-length release from solipsist black-metal band Xasthur (a.k.a. Malefic, a.k.a. Scott Conner) is more of a seventy-five-minute suicide attempt than an album. Malefic plays every woozy, detuned instrument on Defective Epitaph himself, then strangles them to death with a suffocating, no-fi production style — a sort of negative image of the wall of sound pioneered by Malefic’s fellow Alhambra, California, resident Phil Spector.
If this were, say, an Emperor record, the gothic keyboards of “Cemetery of Shattered Masks” and the cryptic guitar bursts in “Legacy of Human Irrelevance” would be overpowering. In Malefic’s gnarled hands, though, there are only disorienting scraps of sounds, sounding like incantations ripped from the pages of some ancient grimoire and howled unintelligibly from inside a coffin (a trick he actually tried in collaboration with Sunn 0))) on the latter’s 2005 release, Black One).
Defective Epitaph isn’t quite frightening, because we can’t even begin to fathom the omni-directional hatred that birthed it. Malefic deliberately prevents us from connecting to it and, by extension, to himself. Impenetrable as it is, though, it’s also darkly mesmeric, sucking us into the emotional void at its core. The primeval thrill of traditional black metal is extinguished, drained of everything but isolation and despair. There is no good time to listen to Defective Epitaph, but if you find one, seek help.