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Forever an “Outlander”: Xasthur Unveils New Acoustic Session Video

xasthur outlander

In the Pacific Northwest, heady and existential black metal and somber (yet folksy) Americana flow together into one confluence, like the two sides of a single coin. Thus, when Scott “Malefic” Conner — the founder and creative force behind prolific Oregon black metal outfit Xasthur – emerged from a five-year hiatus to announce a re-imagined version of the project marked by a radical shift into all-acoustic territory, fans and newcomers alike tuned in with fresh ears and open minds.

Formed more than two decades ago, Xasthur is still renowned as one of the most prominent forerunners in the Cascadian black metal scene — in its original form, though, the project’s music touched upon much more sinister and depressive themes than its successors. Xasthur existed as a one-man project run exclusively by Conner (with occasional help from guest session musicians) for 15 years until he announced the retirement of the project in 2010. However, in 2015, the metal world received stirring news of Xasthur’s return, this time as an acoustic neofolk band featuring two additional musicians. One year later, the project released its ninth studio album Subject to Change to critical acclaim.

This iteration signified a marked change in attitude for the group: they now perform their music live on tour, and have removed percussion and distortion to provide space for minimalist harmonies woven together by three guitars and clean, melodic vocals.

Xasthur’s transition away from extreme metal has also expanded the group’s accessibility and revitalized its relevance, especially within the local music scene. This scope-widening is exemplified by their recent collaboration with Banana Stand Media, a Portland-based production company that showcases independent, underground artists, typically with an inclination toward alternative/indie rock. During the summer of 2017, Xasthur recorded three of their newest compositions with Banana Stand for the “Unpeeled” live video series, in which artists perform stripped-down versions of their material.

The first two of these videos (“Shit Creek” and “Mirror in the Face”) premiered later that same year (watch both at the end of this post); the third video, however, has remained unseen, waiting silently for the right moment to emerge. Now, though, is the right time: check out our exclusive stream of Xasthur’s new song “Outlander” in video form below.

Xasthur’s members sit three abreast in a verdant, urban garden with eyes downturned and a collectively solemn demeanor as they begin to pick away at the wistfully bittersweet, bluegrass-inspired chords of “Outlander.” Conner is seated at center, wielding a 12-string guitar with a navy-blue bandana pulled up over his face; on his right side is Rachel Roomian playing acoustic bass, and on his left is guitarist Chris Hernandez sporting an Epiphone six-string. (Hernandez also currently serves as Xasthur’s vocalist, although “Outlander” is an instrumental track with no lyrics or vocals.) Here, the trio displays a strikingly unified sense of rhythmic and musical expression — even though the three had only been performing together for two years at the time of filming, the musical cooperation demonstrated on these videos suggests a wealth of collaborate experience.

Despite the relative brevity of “Outlander,” the song moves with a robust and steady current, conveying a nuanced yet elusive emotional process. The three musicians deftly pluck and strum through the song’s foreboding verses, then power through its twisting, stoic refrain with an earnest passion for texture and organic motion. Although the juxtaposition between their mournful blackened folk and the colorful, upbeat aesthetic cultivated by Banana Stand may initially seem uncanny, it comes as no surprise that new material from a group like Xasthur would be featured by such an outlet: it perfectly illustrates the abrupt about-face that Conner realized with his music. By shifting from enigmatic and hyper-distorted, old-school black metal to acoustic blackened folk that sits at the cutting edge of heavy music, this band has attained an authentic relevance and modernity that honors a previous life.

This live performance of “Outlander” is more than potent enough to leave us with an eager anticipation for whatever Xasthur have in store for their next release. The outfit has taken the brilliant concepts introduced on Subject to Change and honed them even further, mastering their unique brand of melancholic folk. As of yet, there has been no word from Conner or the group’s label on any new studio material from the band in 2019; considering Conner’s historic introversion and secrecy, however, we will always be on edge for some kind of momentous surprise in the months to come.

— Thomas Hinds

Read our recent intereview with Xasthur for much more on the topic.

The other two videos here:

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