January 13, 2015 Xerath – III (Album Review)
Attempting to pin Xerath into a one-size-fits-all genre label is enough to drive anyone mad. Conceived in the UK in 2007 as an experiment to fuse film music and Extreme Metal by guitarist Andy Phillips, bassist Owain Williams, and drummer Michael Pitman, Xerath have consistently proven themselves as a Metal band to keep your eye on in recent years. Their debut album I, released in 2009 on Candlelight Records played out like a tightly-knit selection of Groove Metal tracks decorated with the orchestral sheen one would fine on a Symphonic Metal album. Their sophomore album, aptly entitled II (2011) furthered their initially projected sound, but with a few key alterations. For instance, Xerath’s Technical Death Metal influences shined more brightly on this album, providing it with a rugged exoskeleton their debut did not have. Another interesting note regarding Xerath’s environment at the time of the release of their second album was their placement in Progressive Metal. In the early 2010s, the so-called “Djent” movement was on the rise, and bands like Animals as Leaders, Periphery, and Veil of Maya releasing vital records in the scene. Xerath’s obvious technical proficiency and forward-thinking approach to Extreme Metal was crucial in landing their status today as one of Progressive Metal’s freshest acts. Their new release, III is more than proof of that.
Since the Djent scene has been on its downswing, new releases by bands like TesseracT, The Faceless, and Fallujah have been instrumental in keeping Progressive Metal alive. Xerath, although clearly progressive, have a few other tricks up their proverbial sleeves on III that would be unfit to describe with that one word alone. The cut-throat Metalcore guitars on the opening track “I Hold Dominion” remind listeners who Xerath are and of the dominion that they truly do hold on modern Metal right now. The British quartet, while staying uniquely Xerath, embraced the coldly metallic, quasi-Industrial Metal characteristics of Alien-era Strapping Young Lad on tracks like “The Chaos Reign,” “Bleed This Body Clean,” and “Demigod Doctrine.” The piston and cylinder precision of the grooves on “2053” and “Passenger” give you an idea of what Meshuggah would sound like if Fredrik Thordendal listened to more Parliament. The more traditional Prog sounds are displayed on this record prominently, as well. Polyrhythms, spacious atmospheres, and virtuosic indulgence are abound on tracks like “Ironclad” and “Sentinels.” Undoubtedly, the defining feature of Xerath’s music, however, is their integration of Symphonic Metal and Death Metal. “Death Defiant” creates spectacular open-ended sonic narratives, upon which the listener is encouraged to impose his or her emotions. Easily the most dramatic and captivating cut on the album, is the instrumental “Witness.” Filled with Mirrorthrone levels of thespian tension, the piece has highs and lows, in and of itself deserving of a Tony Award.
The sixty-nine minute III features some of Xerath’s best work to date and marks a particularly important point in the history of their genre. As the post-Djent mania dials down, it is up to Xerath and the like to supplant the infrastructure of modern Progressive Metal in favor of a style of which more conducive to the present time. CrypticRock gives III 4.5 stars out of 5.