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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.