Here is a phrase that one seldom hears in either Europe or North America: instrumental black metal. One of black metal's trademarks is the sinister-sounding rasp vocal style, and some purists will insist that black metal simply isn't black metal without it. Period. But if any album deserves to be called instrumental black metal, it is Xasthur's All Reflections Drained. Scattered vocals occasionally find their way to this 2009 release, but for all intents and purposes, this is an instrumental album. Granted, there are black metal purists who claim that what Scott Conner, aka Malefic, has been doing with his Xasthur project isn't black metal in the strict sense; they'll tell you that All Reflections Drained is really dark ambient music with a lot of guitar. Or, they'll assert that the term "ambient black metal" is an oxymoron. But what is impure to one listener is expansive and ambitious to another, and however one categorizes All Reflections Drained -- the best description is probably "black metal with elements of dark ambient, doom metal and alternative metal" -- this is a compelling listen. It isn't a happy or cheerful listen; Malefic establishes an extremely bleak, gloomy, and grim atmosphere from the get-go, and a mood of total despair prevails throughout the album. If Malefic's goal was to make All Reflections Drained as dark as possible, he succeeded wildly; this isn't exactly music that someone working for a suicide prevention hotline should play for callers. But there is no law stating that art has to be cheerful to be worthwhile; darker emotions have inspired a long list of rockers to do some of their best work, and darker emotions certainly work to Malefic's creative advantage on All Reflections Drained -- which demonstrates that black metal doesn't need vocals to be effective.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2