Your eyes slowly creep open revealing a fuzzy haze about you, clouding both your vision and mind. A cold, dark veil seems to permeate your surroundings as you shake your head, clearing your vision while simultaneously becoming aware of your rapid heartbeat. You canít help but wonder, ďWhere the hell am I?Ē as you find yourself in a frigid, windowless cellar bearing a solitary door. Attempting to stand you stumble in the direction of the door, falling to the ground as the numbness infecting the lower half of your body hits you like a bullet to the calf. You begin to fight the pain and crawl tediously towards the door when your mind begins to clear and suddenly it hits you, youíve been trapped here for what has seemed like an eternity and will never experience freedom again.
This is what Californiaís own XASTHUR brings to the table. Grim, depressive, cold and most importantly atmospheric Black Metal. The above image is articulately created with this perplexing album and rivals the best work at the height of the US Black Metal scene. Fans of this sub-genre of depressive Black Metal canít ask for much more, as this album is Maleficís defining work and would nearly place him at the forefront with LEVIATHAN, KRIEG and JUDAS ISCARIOT, before his second, third, fourth, or even fifth full-length had even been recorded.
What displaces XASTHUR from the ordinary run of the mill releases inundating the Black Metal market currently is the combination of unique vocal work (which has been repeatedly mimicked since), raw feeling and emotion and terrifying compositional skills. Simply put, Malefic is more than proficient in writing excellent hate inspired and sombre Black Metal. Note-I am reviewing the 2004 reissue of ďA Gate Through Bloodstained MirrorsĒ and it has been heavily remixed including the removal of many vocal parts so that must be kept in mind when I discuss the key elements of the album below.
The guitar-work in XASTHURís debut is one of the focal points in defining the depressive and morbid elements within. The formula of throwing a raw guitar riff in your face at the start of each song is repeated throughout with pleasing variety. The intense yet somehow at the same time languid atmosphere is fabricated through subtle changes in the main riff elevating the mood or lowering with such stark simplicity. This combined with the naked drum-work, which sounds almost like the albumís heart repeatedly pumping throughout the album, simply sends chills down the spine. Most of the tracks are eerie instrumentals which dig deep into your soul caressing and nurturing before attempting to overbear and suffocate.
When absorbing this piece of art it is often hard to not be induced into a trance-like state and it can be rather pleasant to be jarred from that surrealism by a change in tempo or the emerging of the screeching and hideous vocals. Maleficís voice is ultimately enrapturing when it rears its ugly head and makes one wonder exactly what effects he uses to pull off that sound. If you read my VELVET CACOON review, I defined SGLís vocals as if someone was caged in the background within the production and just whispering over the noise so that the nightmare was barely audible. Maleficís are similar except that the listener is placed within that cell and bombarded with the dreadful snarls up-close as they are more easily made out and distinguished in the mix. I imagine if Lucifer himself would be caught on tape his raspy voice would sound similar to this recording.
I would definitely equate this as XASTHURís most complete work and presents the projectís most interesting elements only in much larger and more powerful doses (guitar tone/riffs, vocals, production). While it is undeniably epic and magnificent I would not recommend this to all. If you are more acquainted to the raw, fast and aggressive Black Metal in the vein of DARKTHRONE, CRAFT, or MAYHEM, I would suggest shying away. For those of us who enjoy intense atmosphere and actually enjoy being dragged below the earth into a dark nightmare every once in awhile-this oneís for you. With this album XASTHUR solidified themselves as one of the main progenitors of the US Black Metal scene and defined the sound which so many others would later copy. (Online March 23, 2005)