Thanks to UK Metallers Xerath’s consistent live work it appears that I am one of the few Ave Noctum scribes to be unfamiliar with the band. So why, therefore does it fall upon me to review their imaginatively titled 3rd album…“III”? Well it appears that the band have taken a further step into the realms of orchestrated symphonia in comparison to their previous albums…the name’s of which escape me now… Then, I realised when I saw the artwork to their debut that I HAVE heard them! A mate of mine played me it once after stating “The UK’s Meshuggah or what??!!”. And from what I remember, he was right…but I don’t really like Meshuggah…so why the hell am I reviewing this again?? Oh yeah, because I like European Orchestral Symphonic Metal (amongst other things), so it was agreed that I should come at it from that particular angle rather than from an extreme metal point of view for a change.
It’s not that there aren’t any other Noctum contributors that like the band – it’s just that sometimes it helps a band’s profile to be seen from a different angle, to open them up to a wider audience maybe. So that’s the general idea anyway…and, almost to prove which angle I’m coming from, I was very pleased to see that the production was handled by the same guy that did Epica’s last one – so a decent sound is pretty much a given. And yes, the production is excellent and “III” does indeed kick off with an Epica style orchestral moment that eventually grows into it’s opening track ‘I Hold Dominion’. It’s groovy main riff and tempos manages to incorporate a bit of Tool, some Devin Townsend and a convincing King’s X style chorus, both musically and vocally. Certainly a brave start given the band’s previous outings, and possibly another step away from their former selves. Though the band’s previous Meshuggah-ness is more than apparent in the following track, along with plenty of Opeth, which is more the direction for the rest of the album than the opener.
There’s no denying the high standard of talent on offer as Xerath continue to blend orchestration, groove metal, progressive metal and melodic death metal to varying degrees throughout “III”. Much of the time they come across as an orchestrated, more technical Mercenary, which isn’t a bad place to be, and as is the case with personal taste, sometimes I feel it works brilliantly, other times it’s all a bit much. But that’s personal taste – The aforementioned opening track, plus the excellent ‘Veil’ (Parts one and two that close the album) are my personal highlights, just because they have the more melodic, symphonic, progressive parts I like – but that doesn’t mean to say anyone else will agree! Take ‘Witness’ for example, an interesting song that has a melodic clean hook-line, an intricate semi-acoustic part, plenty of extreme metal sections, some unexpected time changes, good guitar parts, and an innovative arrangement. First time I heard it I liked one riff, an acoustic bit and the clean vocals. Each repeated listen won me over to more and more sections and I can now say I really like most of the track…but not quite all of it, and I think that’s the experience many people will have on various levels, just because “III” meshes so many elements of metal that it’s difficult to love all of it all of the time. But even the bits that you don’t favour personally will prove to be someone else’s favourites – they all have their place in Xerath’s big scheme of things.
This is a difficult album to review (could you tell much??!) because Xerath are still building their own style, album by album, and that’s the beauty and intrigue of the band, they are non-conformist, breaking new ground and experimenting…and I’m rather proud they are from my home country – I don’t get to say that as often as I would like nowadays. “III” is a challenging but rewarding listen for fans of all the genres (and more) that I listed earlier, and I doubt any fan of one particular genre is going to gel 100% with Xerath…but I reckon that suits the band just fine. Xerath aren’t about compromise or trying to please an untapped, singular audience, they are just doing their thing and if anyone wants to enjoy it with them, then all the better.
(7.5/10 Andy Barker)