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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.