In the mid-2000s, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Scott Conner became something of an anti-hero in the heavy-music underground. Recording entirely on his own under the pseudonym Malefic and the “band” name of Xasthur, the California artist created dense, plodding black-metal tracks that, even in a subgenre known for its sonic bleakness and history of real-world crime, stood out as particularly severe.
Some held him up as a figurehead of a movement dubbed (certainly not by the artists involved) Depressive Suicidal Black Metal. Considering Xasthur’s anguished sound, song titles such as “Beauty Is Only Razor Deep” and “Memorial to the Waste of Life,” and the fact that he purportedly performed guest vocals for a 2005 Sunn O))) track while enclosed in an actual casket, the label seemed to fit.
“I don’t recall ever making claims I can’t back up in my lyrics, like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna kill myself.’ I don’t do that,” he said in the 2012 Noisey documentary “One Man Metal.” “But instead what I do is, I just say, ‘Hey, you know, here’s a few reasons for you, listening to this, you might want to look into dying and killing yourself. You might want to look into that.'”
Conner ended Xasthur in 2010, but after a period of performing under the name Nocturnal Poisoning, he rebooted the project in 2015. The name is really all that remains of the old Xasthur, though. Not only has he moved on from black metal entirely, opting instead for a folk-influenced acoustic sound he’s referred to as “Doomgrass,” he’s actually writing love songs. His YouTube channel, which hosts a trove of videos tracing the impressive evolution of his acoustic phase, recently featured a lovely fingerpicked instrumental guitar demo entitled “For Shannon.”
“She didn’t want me to get her name tattooed, so I made this instead,” Conner writes of the song, performed by him and another musician identified only as “Joe,” and dedicated to his significant other. “Since it ain’t black metal, I can title it anything I want or whatever needs to be, dig?”
The track craftily combines a bluesy main riff with sections that feel eerier and more mystical. Overall, it seems to stem more from the offbeat, genre-blurring world of an artist like John Fahey than from traditional Americana. In a 2018 Decibel interview Conner cited both Fahey and Jerry Garcia as influences.
“I do believe that lots of black metal fans are looking for something different,” he said. “But I think it’s hard to find. Supposedly, they like technical music, and I try to do that. Supposedly, they want stuff that is dark and dark subject matter. I think there are things in this music that will appeal to them and if they are looking for something different I can provide it.”