Review: Xasthur – Portal of Sorrow

Review by: Meriel Longmore
Review score: 5/5

“Portal of Sorrow” has been released as an alternate swansong for XASTHUR and although I believe the full-length predecessor “All Reflections Drained” has its merits, “Portal of Sorrow” is most certainly a superior release.

The album is interesting firstly in that it combines recognisable song structures that hark back to the earlier days of XASTHUR whilst also encompassing new ideas and techniques. For example; I am reminded of early albums such as “Nocturnal Poisoning” as “Portal of Sorrow” features similarly unsettling compositions that take those unexpected paths that makes XASTHUR such compelling and obsessive listening. This is where “All Reflections Drained” was not so successful as despite it being a well-composed and thoroughly listenable release, the sense of character was not so prominent. I remember reading an interview with Malefic years ago about the way in which he composes songs and (if my memory serves correctly); a sequence of notes will be arranged & then re-written or played differently so that they appear to sound “wrong”. I find this notion of songwriting fascinating because it defies convention whilst also challenging the traditional concepts of composing music. This twisting of the song-structures makes for an original sound and those notes that are adapted to sound “wrong” actually result in music that sounds everything but wrong as anyone who supports XASTHUR will know all too well. So, aside these lugubrious and broken melodies, there are also new features added to the XASTHUR formula. Firstly there is the addition of female vocals which add a great deal to the overall atmosphere and effectiveness of the release. Marissa Nadler provides an elegantly sung and ethereal vocal resulting in the album having a truly unearthly and hypnotic effect. Boston singer/song-writer Marissa Nadler has talent in her own right, producing a spine-tingling brand of acoustic Dark Folk for her solo releases; her vocalisations combined with the talents of Malefic therefore work amazingly well. Bands such as WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM, UNHOLY, BLOODY PANDA, and ASVA have used beautifully sung female vocals in their music in a similarly convincing manner.

“Portal of Sorrow” is also a more organic and abstracted release. For example; throughout the album there is an almost Neo-Classical approach considering the use of occasional deep and velvety narrations, melancholic piano pieces, subtle experimentation with found sound sounds / sampling, cold ambience and soaring soundscapes in addition to the fuzzy and distorted guitars. At times the tempo of the music is also drastically slowed down and so the music is more depressive, funereal and grand than ever.

In short; Malefic concludes the chapter of XASTHUR with an outstanding album, combining cult signature style and brooding sense of underlying horror with bold new innovations. This release may not be for everyone but is most definitely one for cult followers!