So as I was perusing a downtown HMV last week, I rolled to the end of the aisle labeled “metal” with my nose held high in complete conviction of my superior taste over all this mainstream piss. While asking a bored wage-jockey for an impossible request (“Oh you don’t have any Ecstatic Flagocephalation? Figures, this place is a dump.”) my snobbery was brought to a sudden halt as my slack jaw knocked over a whole pile of records under the label XASTHUR (black/ambient – USA). Wide distribution is totally not tr00.

This was a great shock coming from the closest thing USBM one-man-jam bands have ever had to call an idol. Malefic has been carrying the Xasthur standard for over a decade now even collaborating with members from Sunn O))), ISIS, Nachtmystium, etc., along the way. He’s a man that’s posed in face-paint and made a mean face while a noose hung next to him, who’s released more splits than full-lengths, who for years was making unlistenable, esoteric trash that was so tr00 it hurt (the listener) and now I find his work in jewel cases sandwiched between Winds of Plague and Zao? Color me disillusioned.

I’ve gotten over it though. After all, 2007’s Defective Epitaph was described by some under-qualified shmuck like myself as the most accessible Xasthur album to date. This means fifty less people hated it compared to every other release before that and one of those people happened to be Ryan Adams. Pitchfork Media has recently also positioned the balls of Scott Connor, oops I mean Malefic, firmly on their chin in a delicate balancing act.

The great part is that all this attention has sent Xasthur in a frenzied retreat back underground with All Reflections Drained. I will wager that few hipsters will have the fortitude to get past the initial harmonized dissonance of the aptly titled opener “Dirge Forsaken” even if it’s on limited cassette edition (yeah you read that right). The rest of the album continues to shock and shows again just how far he’s come from his original Burzum aping all those years ago. Droning ambiance leading into ugly guitar harmonies with spooky whispering and sublimated wailing all layered to the basement and back. Much of the album is instrumental and gradually builds up to the fifteen-minute center piece “Masquerade of Incisions” and then decays in mood and tempo into the finale. Sprinkled throughout are interesting diversions like piano, bells and a suspiciously out of tune guitar on “Inner Sanctum Surveillance”. In short it’s everything that you hate, love and makes you giggle about Xasthur.

It’s hard to really believe that I’m actually reviewing this on the site, because in theory this doesn’t seems like music that could attract notice or even fans at all. All the layered dissonance makes this album so damn ugly that I’d venture to say it could be the most powerful anti-disiac known to man. I know most of you have probably put on Opeth’s Damnation to get you laid at least once. Putting on All Reflections Drained would make a cab turn up in your drive-way before you could even reach for the light dimmer.

Despite the claustrophobic, intentionally necro production, very sloppy drum performances and the fact that only cred-chasing hipsters should pretend to like this garbage, there’s something really charming waiting for the patient listener. “Masquerade of Incisions” you can actually bang your head to and it actually rocks for most of its lengthy play-time. The ambient sections of the album are never relaxing but sometimes allow you a breather between music that’s actually disturbing and scary. The heaviness of this album comes entirely from its ability to make you feel uncomfortable listening to it but when all the tension breaks on the title track finale you might even discover something beautiful after all. If, however, you own the limited cassette edition I can assure you that you yourself are not beautiful.

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(3 horns out of 5)


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