(DGR reviews the new third album by Xerath.)
Allow me to start this review by stating this fact; I am so happy that Xerath got the chance to record another album because Xerath records discs like music is going out of style. They are one of the few bands out there who rank incredibly high on the under-appreciated-to-ambition index, because every album the band have put out, despite their inauspicious album titles, have been massive slabs of music. I think they should deserve multiple opportunities in the future to do so based on their cover of “Speed Demon” by Michael Jackson, because it confirmed that I was not the only one who heard that bassline in the song and went, “There’s a metal song in this.”
Nobody really does the “bang for your buck” routine quite like Xerath do. They remind me of the time when a friend of mine ordered one of those gimmicky massive burgers that restaurants come out with, and when the waitress brought it out, we laughed at it because our simpleton minds could not comprehend the reality of this huge slab of meat sitting in front of us, we paid for it, boxed it, and left.
Xerath make no compromises in their music, and I absolutely love the fact that the FIRST SONG of this album is over seven minutes long, because for a group who should be earning a massive fan base, they love to put barriers to entry the size of the Berlin Wall at the front of their albums. In those seven minutes the band pack every single thing that has ever defined Xerath into one song: a huge blast of orchestration, a giant-sized serving of mid-tempo-focused groove riffs, super-high screaming and occasional clean singing. and complicated drumming. It’s like they were told III was going to be a one-song album.
But III is not a one-song trip. In fact, III has fourteen songs on it, and like its brethren I and II, the album includes long, arduous journeys through multiple landscapes — seemingly guided tours of a beautiful apocalypse, and you really have to be prepared for what you are about to undertake. III, also like its brothers, is a great album, but also shares in some of the issues that hampered them a bit as well. It’s a huge disc that needs to be approached as you would a thousand-mile journey, one step at a time.
III was a long time coming. It’s impressive when a band manages to take what they have done with a previous disc and expand upon it, and Xerath are one of the few who have managed to do so since their first release. The result is that III is a huge, megalithic structure of groove metal and orchestration. As a whole, III is enormous, a work that sees the band stomping around the landscape, each drum hit thundering like a storm just over the horizon. Basically, III is like a march to war in its militaristic precision.
Vocalist Richard Thomson is still one of the most immediately identifiable guys out there, as his mid-scream to high shriek still has a ton of his actual voice in it, making him sound like a pyrocannon of yells. Most of his lyrics this time around are heavily percussive, like another layer on top of the drum work that is behind it. He gets his moments of singing glory as well, as every couple of songs have him engaging in massive hooks backed by the Xerath symphony, which drops into the long, held-out notes. The few times when this does happen, it is a purposeful endeavor, because they come out with claws bared and ready to hook into your brain.
Of course, the band behind him still do the lion’s share of the work, which seems like an obvious statement, but considering how packed-to-the-gills III is, it’s still a statement that needs to be made. Since most of the songs are mid-tempo stompers, drummer Michael Pitman throws in a huge amount of cymbal work in each song as he rolls through the music. There’s a lot of that sort of flair between each regular drum hit, and on top of the already fit metal drumming, the performance complements the carefully constructed guitar parts and the symphonic aspect of the band, which tie in side by side throughout III.
Xerath also pick up the pace a couple of times on III, and that is where both guitar and bass get their moments to shine. Even those songs aren’t super-fast, but they do serve to remind us that Xerath could probably make a really good album out of super-fast songs, because when they decide to barrel through a track or two accompanied by Richard’s banshee screaming, they sound like a battle happening, gunfire filling the rooms and shells hitting the floor.
The weird thing about this album is that, for all my talk about how it feels so packed that you have to cut it into multiple trips or have a lot of time available, I’m not sure where I would change anything. Each song on III is genuinely good on its own, and the suite of songs is a fantastic, multi-layered groove set. “I Hold Dominion”, the seven-minute up-front beast, for instance, goes by in the blink of an eye when it pops up randomly on shuffle. Since III only runs an hour and eight minutes, I’m not even sure where I could trim any fat given the option, because I don’t want to touch these songs. We’ve had way longer discs, and I think part of the reason why Xerath feels so huge is because the songs are so ornately structured. The main four-piece of the band create this giant, meaty slab of metal and then they throw in a whole bunch of orchestration on top of it — weaving it in and out of the songs so that it doesn’t just feel like a separate layer. One track in particular features the band in a call-and-response section with that backing symphony.
As crazy as it sounds, I have found that the best way to approach III is to break it up into sections. The band themselves throw in a couple of quick segues in the middle of songs, but if you actually stop after track six, take a quick breather, then come back and do the rest of the album, you can get a lot of enjoyment out of III. There’s so much to dig through that you’ll want to stay locked in and focused on each song. Once you get past the basic structure, the group do breathe in subtlety, and the mountain of guitar riffs on III could leave any rhythm guitar player salivating for weeks, as each song bends and slowly works its way back before the next measure. The closing tracks of “Veil Pt. 1” and “Veil Pt. 2” are together a great block of music and “Pt. 2” is a perfect way to close out the crater left behind as III pile-drives each song into the ground.
By the time this review runs, Xerath’s III will have been out for a little over a month and a half. But, as I learned when I reviewed II back in 2011, Xerath albums take some time to review simply because so much happens on each album. And III sounds like an album four years in the making, too. It’s probably not the case, but it definitely feels like four years of ideas, turmoil, and frustration were packed into this disc. As a successor to I and II, it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with its brethren, which can be both a good and bad thing. It iterates on II in the same way II (although a larger one) iterated upon I — which means the three discs stand in similar size and stature. Frankly, I really want this to happen, because III is great enough to be rewarded — but if the group ever make a IV, I want them to get really adventurous with it, because as it stands I don’t think my album shelf could handle another album like the previous ones without buckling… and those are the only three discs on it right now.
Every time Xerath have put out a disc I have found myself uttering, “Man, I really hope they get a chance to do another one of these because it promises so much for the future”. And each following disc has indeed met most of those expectations, while also adding a whole new pile of ideas on top of the heap. But after the journey of III through its beautifully painted, apocalyptic, flattened, and destroyed landscapes, I want to see IV take the band to all sorts of places. I want to hear Xerath take on fast; I want them to get doomy; and I really hope they get more time to play with the orchestration, because I imagine Xerath as a band of super-ambitious madmen, and I want to see them unshackled and loosed upon the world because they have demonstrated over three albums (and III especially) that they can create huge, movie-score-worthy songs.
Yes, it’s great to see Xerath back, and while III has them quite in their comfort zone, their formula still works and the album is an enjoyable one — although you may need a breather from the slow suffocation of the metric ton of guitarwork and bass riffs they drop on you. But once again, “Man. I really hope they get the chance to do another one of these”.