Xasthur Steps Back From the Abyss on New Disc

Xasthur

All Reflections Drained (Hydra Head)

For centuries, scholars believed that metalness was a straight continuum, with bands like Slayer at the top end and performers like, oh, say, Debussy at the bottom. In recent years, though, researchers have discovered that the truth is somewhat different. Beyond St. Vitus, beyond Celtic Frost, out where the black dooms drone, we now know metal curves, and like a wily ourobourous, takes its tail in its teeth only to discover it's chomping on the smiling visage of Danny Elfman.

Xasthur's new album doesn't sound like Danny Elfman at all, really. But on it, one-man-band Malefic maybe takes a step or two around the circle in that direction that I wish he hadn't. At his spiky, buzzing best—as on 2002's Nocturnal Poisoning—Malefic was right in the soul of black, with static and keyboards and shrieking vocals and drums all fusing in a single hissing howl of knives and hate. Xasthur was fierce, brutal, and unrelenting. And then, on All Reflections Drained, Malefic relents. He breathes out something approaching his trademark evil at the beginning of "Inner Sanctum Surveillance" and in the middle of "Masquerade of Incisions." But for the most part, the album just backs off everything a bit—the buzz, the static, the shrieks—and all of a sudden we're listening to a soundtrack for the apocalypse rather than experiencing the apocalypse itself.

What's even worse is that slowly, horribly, as you listen it becomes clear that Xasthur was always just an inch away from—restful. And—pleasant. Like Jesu, or Sigur Ros. Don't get me wrong, I like Jesu and Sigur Ros. But I liked the old Xasthur more.