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This album marks a significant departure for Xasthur from previous recordings: only two or three tracks here feature vocals and lyrics though some of the others may have voice as a textural layer in the music, and the music itself is much less black metal, or even metal, as well. As the title of the album hints, the music is thick and muddied with keyboards dominating guitars and percussion in large parts, and all semblance of conventional song structures and elements has been sucked into the textures of the sound. There is a strong soundtrack feel as though the music had been composed for a psychological horror movie too baffling and terrifying to be unleashed on the public.
Right away the album descends into deep dark depressive zone of sonorous Tibetan-horn drone boom, thin and tinny percussion and pained tone effects. As is usual with Xasthur albums, any structures present tend to be minimalistic in style, with lots of repetition but this time to suggest a steady and inexorable fall into madness. Piano runs around and around the keyboard reinforces the spiral into black depths. The drums are very martial in sound with a crisp choppy edge and jangly guitars circle about the listener. Atmospheric effects, ghostly and sinister, come to the fore.
The notion of an internal hell continues in the first proper song "Maze of Oppression" and it's here that I really notice Malefic is using a proper drum kit instead of programmed percussion. This gives his music a more full-bodied sound and more individuality than it has had before. Massive guitar drone riffs endow the track with tragic grandeur and the vocals, when they arrive, simply add a gritty and malevolent textured layer to the otherwise clean and sometimes orchestral style. There is a Gothic-cathedral richness to the proceedings. "Achieve Emptiness, Pt. 2" continues with the strong thunderous drumming and the faux violin-orchestra which has a slightly shocked feel in its washed-out tones: the difference here though is that a bass melody gives the track a definite identity which seems reassuring, even though it's repetitive and features off-kilter notes. The track is notable for its spoken voice recordings that suggest a weak and fragmented sense of self.
The major track by sheer length is "Masquerade of Incisions" which might be a reference to self-loathing, destructive self-talk and desire to self-harm and mutilate. The piece is very repetitive though the loops do change subtly. Drums and hissing vocals dominate while guitar tones repeat over and over monotonously. There are thunder and other effects in the background. Not too bad but the guitar tones start to sound bland from all the repetition in spite of the sharp jewel-like edge they have.
What remains of the rest of the album actually features some very good music: Malefic creates some very interesting rhythms and beats with the drum kit and there are strange and alien melodies here thanks to his love of off-key notes and chords that go into the tunes and riffs. It's not unusual for the thick and booming music to continue for a while and then suddenly lose colour and substance, rapidly fading into something weak and lacking form. This might allude to the mental state of a suicidal depressive person with a history of abuse and mistreatment, someone with a borderline personality problem uncertain of his/her ego identity. The ongoing repetition either works well or doesn't, depending on the distinctiveness of the riff, how it is dressed up and how Malefic treats it: sometimes the music is too thick or seems a blunt instrument when perhaps a more sensitive touch is called for. Sound dynamics - how loud a riff can get and how soft something should be - is rather weak here with the result that a track like "Inner Sanctum Surveillance" can sound too heavy-handed sometimes. The album ends strongly with the title track, a surprisingly bluesy piece with a frail and troubled Iggy-Pop kind of vocal muttering over a complex layered slab of constant clattery cymbal, a had pounding guitar riff and near-orchestral backing.
There's a lot that Malefic got right with the music here: it captures perfectly growing mental derangement especially in one track "Obfuscated in Oblivion" and is much more varied in sound, rhythm, mood and riffing than on some previous albums. At times the album can be majestic and very massive with a strong if saddened orchestral-sounding tapestry of sounds, tone washes, droning guitar. The vocals are also more complex as well with the use of spoken voice recordings and Malefic muttering some lyrics in a natural voice while still relying on watery bleached grim BM vocals. As a result the repetition of riffs and melodies that can be a bane on earlier albums is not so much of a problem overall but on individual tracks the constant looping can still be a problem. The major weakness is that minimalistic repetition is the only structuring element Malefic uses and the music can end up living and dying by the strength of the music loop that is the basis for repetition.
On the whole the album works if heard as a highly emotional and dramatic soundtrack to a film that relies the warped psychology of its characters for shock value; if heard by those expecting a collection of self-contained songs, "All Reflections Draine" will be a disappointment.
It never ceases to amaze me that my two favorite US black metal artists are essentially solo projects (with guest musicians). Scott Conner (aka Xasthur) has previously devastated me with albums such as Telepathic with the Deceased and Defective Epitaph, but I feel he has one upped himself with this latest opus, a brilliant foray into a realm of purely desolate guitar work and oppressive sewer-like atmosphere. All Reflections Drained needs to be heard to be believed, for few albums which make the effort turn out even a fraction as haunting as this.
"Dirge Forsaken" writhes with turbulent, subterranean desperation, as if your corpse were being carried through a sewage system towards the Underworld by black veiled, silent figures, a small fraction of your consciousness remaining to view the scene. A twisted pattern of guitar riffing repeats itself as other 'melodies' creep into the mix. "Maze of Oppression" features cascading walls of discord that create a hypnotic foundation for Conner's laid-back snarling. Disgusting and infectious. "Achieve Emptiness Part II" is like a nightmare reflection of post-rock or shoegazer rock within a doomy environs, highlighted by some sparse and well-placed samples. "Masquerade of Incisions" swells with chiming tones and horror film guitar jangle, and "Inner Sanctum Surveillance" creeps along like a bottom feeder through a rusted, submerged pipeline. The title track, which ends the album, is an epic exploration of haunting tones, samples and bleak ambience. About the only track I didn't care for on the album was "Damage Your Soul", but it's not out of place. The lyrics, where they exist, are sparse and crushing, never complex.
'Halls and walls of consequence deem endless, where hope is the art of lying to yourself. You're a lost fucking cause in a vicious circle of endless rape.
You've raped yourself in front of the mirrors I held before you, running from a future and leaving a maze of scars.'
As usual, the production of the record is desolate and oppressive, yet scintillating and 'glorious' when the songs demand. Vocals are held back into a pattern with the music, they never override the burden of the ghostlike mire of guitars that truly penetrates the soul. This is among the best material Xasthur has yet released, but I will warn listeners that it is not for the faint of heart. In fact, this is only 'black metal' in the loosest of senses. Conner is bent on exploring dark corners of the mind to which blackish metal is only the ticket booth. He has once again succeeded with flying...or shall I say the utter lack...of colors.
Xasthur project is a “love it or hate it” sort of music. Personally, I had written Xasthur off for years after having the “opportunity” (or being subjected to, if you will) to hear Subliminal Genocide. Needless to say, I’d find myself in the “hate it” category: and this is from someone who normally likes raw and sometimes low-fi black metal (see early Burzum for example). So it was with a combination of curiosity, extra cash to burn and quite possibly a bit of masochism that I bought All Reflections Drained. I was hopeful that this would be better than my previous experience. Sitting through the entire album was definitely a chore rather than an enjoyable experience.
It would be easier for me to start with the positive aspects before getting down to what I didn’t like here: the music, when done correctly, sounds quite enjoyable in one context – if I was watching an avant-garde movie, or a really atmospheric horror movie, this would be the perfect soundtrack. That said, as there was no movie going on, this bored the life out of me. There is one song that I enjoy on here, and that would be Obfuscated in Oblivion. It is slightly more effective than the rest of the songs on this album, and would have a potential for a second listening… if I didn’t have to endure the other seven songs in the process.
The only other positive thing I can say for this album is that the packaging is quite nice: it comes in a long-board case - remember the cardboard boxes CD's used to come out in when they first came out? Yes, it’s like that, only durable. It also comes with a nice black and white “artistic” booklet that is filled with images of trees and well as some credits and such, which is much more than I would’ve expected from this.
And now for the bad: it becomes dull, rather fast. I have to say is that the music repeats in drone fashion here bores me to death. That is the biggest obstacle for any musician – keeping your audience enthralled. And unless you are in a hospital on a heavy dose of morphine, this is not going to hold on to the average listener. Also, at times, the riffs that will often repeat from any period of half a song to an entire song. This is more akin to drone than black metal, as far as I'm concerned. That is, until the vocals come in - if you happen to have that good of hearing. You see, the bass and the drums seem mixed higher than the guitars, with some strange ambient noise falling somewhere between those two elements.
But the riffs and the vocals, unholy shit, when they're present and audible, they're pretty bad. The riffs seemed like some thought went behind them, as in "I wonder if I could write something to make listeners uncomfortable". Instead, the riffs invoke not fear, loathing and dread, but rage, ire and uncontrolled violent verbal outbursts that someone actually paid for this. I know the concept: two or more foreign notes in succession can either make the listener happy or cause sadness. The way the riffs are arranged, though trying to make you uncomfortable, simply fail on any level. And the vocals, which are thankfully usually buried in the background in this mix, are fucking horrible! Within one line, I instantly want the vocals to be gone, when I can hear them. It sounds like Varg / Burzum worship, but it comes across as a more tone-deaf, physically tortured invalid trying to sing material from across the room! I can't even begin to justify the vocals on this - they ruin what little it had going for it.
Overall, though, you're not likely going to hear the things I've complained about, because it sounds like it was recorded in an air bubble in a swamp. Nothing stands clear by itself - no one aspect of the music gets a chance to breathe. There might have been a riff I liked, or a vocal line that didn't encourage me to take up street dentistry on the vocalist... Hellhammer might have played drums on this. But you wouldn't notice it because it is one giant mixed bubbling sauce pan of shit.
There is a “bonus” disc, though I’m not sure it was included as a true bonus or more as an incentive to buy this album. The songs are marginally better than the album itself, which says something. The more tolerable songs on this disc are Aura of Denial, ”Untitled” and Trauma Will Always Linger. But out of ten songs, that’s not saying a lot.
Overall, the packaging, the layout and the notion that this could be used for something great, while the music itself is considerably less thought out than the artwork, is disappointing. I don’t see myself listening to this anytime in the near future, if at all. What I look for in black metal, black ambient or any other related genre, is a feeling, whether it be empowerment, calming melodies, an evil vibe or, best yet, something that gets under your skin and makes you feel dirty after listening to it. All Reflections Drained holds none of these qualities.
The question begins with the very essence of the defining characteristics of black metal. Truthfully, I have always found the bleak and unsettling atmosphere to be one black metal's most compelling traits. Xasthur's music is despair incarnate; his misanthropy and desolation are palpable throughout nearly every recording Malefic has ever done. All Reflections Drained is indeed a different beast altogether than his previous albums, although the same elements are still in place. The album merely requires a tweaked approach to listening to it.
Like Defective Epitaph, Malefic actually plays a live drumkit rather than utilizing the drum machines of all albums prior. Other reviewers have noted that he is an atrocious drummer, and this claim is not without merit. However, this is slow to mid-tempo black metal, and to be quite honest, it doesn't take much skill to get the job done. The visceral feel of a drumkit as opposed to the clinical metronomical ticking of a drum machine does this album a great service. The stomp of the bass drum thuds far off in the distance, as though through a fog. The ride cymbals wash erratically in whispers from somewhere behind you. On some tracks, he even gets a seductively hypnotic groove going (see track 8, All Refflections Drained). Another complaint about this album is the sparse use of guitar, and the predominance of keyboards. As I stated above, atmosphere is key to determining black metal for me, not a buzzsawing guitar riff. That is mindlessly regurgitating a overly used trope of the genre to make yourself appear cool (kvlt, yay for spelling). Malefic avoids this, and stretches for something new, something different. A preponderance of keyboards has been a part of his style for several albums now, and he takes it to new levels here. What made the second wave of black metal so powerful in the first place was its reach for something altogether different from the society these people were a part of, and the death metal that surrounded them. So now we criticize a similar reach for something separate from the status quo? Malefic layers various keyboards to staggering effect here, spooling grey webs across grey trees in a grey fog with the sun hidden behind grey clouds. The listener is slowly sucked into the remorseless of a void that promises nothing but emptiness. There is unquestionably a rather small amount of vocal sections, and they vary a good deal more than earlier albums; as another reviewer noted, Malefic frequently utilizes a low whisper to convey his lyrics (no more intelligible than before). This actually heightens the effectiveness of his scream when he does let loose, its absence from the album at large accentuates its appearance and the sorrow it evokes.
One element unaddressed is Malefic's production skills. They remain the same as they have always been: you either love the lo-fi cloud rising from several feet away or you despise the blurring of the sounds together. If anything, he has gotten better at what he does at the soundboard. This is an even more low-key album than Malefic's other work as Xasthur, and I am of the mind that an artist must first seek to produce something that pleases himself before attempting to please others, if at all. The sorrow and despair here is strong, and Malefic's soul is being dragged down to the depths of these far-off mounrful cries. I would not have this album any other way.
I always followed Xasthur's progression and I always liked the music very much. Much more than a simple suicidal black metal outfit, which in fact has evolved a lot. "All Reflections Drained" is the latest offering.
Quite from the begining this album sucks you in Malefic's playground and a parade of all kinds of atrocities emerges! The production is slightly clearer (or at least I think so), yet the typical fog which surrounds Xasthur's sound is still present but a little more elevated and a more clear aspect of the sonic landscape reveals. After all these years, Malefic keeps creating mega-structures of blackness and sorrow, some of them are of great proportions, he did it once again. As you can imagine, the atmosphere in this recording is once again haunting like a post-Lovecraft hallucination to say the least; a surrealistic pilgrimage to the "beyond" and yet another piece of the gutted puzzle Xasthur manipulates.
This new epiphany consists of eight long tracks, eight long and agonizing revelations about all the moods in the shades of grey. More psychedelic and deep, with more orchestral elements as wellas more concrete walls of sound. Equally depressive as we all well know it. The almost complete abscence of any vocals, only a small fragment of words is present, is a key element which adds to the atmosphere very much, leaving the music to narrate and in between, some raw parts pounding only to melt with the ethereal passages later on. Insane riffs, asylum chords, sick and repeative themes, all known ingredients typically found in all Xasthur's material. These eight new serenades create a certain cataclysmic flow of black metal outburst, and with it's power it will eventually be discribed as one of the standards of the post-Burzum era!
The fairytale of Xasthur unfolds from time to time constantly now, album by album and sigle by single and so on. The scene in which these horror elegies taking place is almost the same, and the outcome once again is astonishing. Another chapter of the Malefician holocaust opus just unleashed and I'm more than happy to dig it again and again. I cannot find anything less than extreme suicidal music of the highest quality.
...And the related packaging madness: Being a die-hard junkie when it comes to packaging I greatly appreciated and liked the artwork of this album (enjoyable in the vinyl format mostly) which is simply amazing! In the other hand I was a little disapointed with the tape version, which looks somewhat cheap. It is nice, really, but cosmetically could be better I think. Besides in tape, "All Reflections Drained" is also released in CD and vinyl format, with the vinyl version being just an eye-candy! Housed in a very thick and luxurious gatefold sleeve whith the artwork in all it's glory and available in four versions, normal black vinyl, blood red vinyl, red mist vinyl with exclusive slipmat (which is insanely nice) and the picture disc with exclusive backpatch which is the most limited of the four. Trully, this is visualy one of his most beautiful releases ever.
After hearing this I'm close thinking Malefic actually has no clue how to write music and relies on luck and a tabbing program. At one point, maybe a year or two ago, I would have considered myself a big Xasthur fan, but frustrated by the sheer amount of crap he put out I think I've lost much of my interest. To Violate the Oblivious stands out as the only Xasthur album as a whole I thoroughly enjoy, beyond that there are great songs floating around on various lps, eps, and splits. With Defective Epitaph we were given hope that since Malefic proved himself competent with the drums for what he had to play we would no longer suffer the inane drum machine he so poorly used, but alas that hope was quashed by an alright album and this current heap of crap.
Xasthur, notorious for creating dense, harrowing black metal with strong attention to atmosphere and ambiance has become a complete joke of itself. Gone are the nice melodies, or completely chilling/frightening atmosphere, or the painful wails, instead we are given endless dirges of mediocrity. Continuing with Defective Epitaph the production is completely horrid and muffled. It sounds like everything was recorded in a heavy plastic trash can, there is no power behind any instruments and no definition. Malefic relies heavily upon the keyboard with this release, his guitar playing has become a complete dismal affair as all he can do is clean pick boring and shitty riffs that all sound the same for roughly an hour.
The worst part is, what moments pass for "decent" sound like retakes of older recordings but simply done in a sloppier fashion. This album sounds like no effort was put into it and sounds far from genuine. The only thing, besides the declining quality, that has changed is the prominence of vocals. Always a strong point for Xasthur were Maelfic's tortured, piercing wails. Those said wails seem to be almost completely absent from this recording which just allows the crappy instrumentation to get the full spot light.
A smart move would be for Malefic to either reinvent himself, quit, or maybe redo some older albums with better production and real drums. The album is another misstep for Malefic, and another reason for this fan to stop caring. It's hard to defend Xasthur from all the hate it has incurred over these years, it's like standing up for your neo-nazi cousin; you're an asshole either way.