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To be heard as a soundtrack to a psych horror film - 80%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, January 25th, 2013

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.