I was very pleased with the evolution Xerath underwent in between both first albums. The debut I was acceptable, but with II, Xerath did surprise me a lot. That’s why I was pleased to notice that now, after almost three and a half year of impatiently waiting, there is a new Xerath full length, ingeniously called III. Once again this material was produced by Jacob Hansen (Tyr, Destinity, Epica, Yyrkoon, Aborted etc.), and the album features artwork by Colin Marks (think: Sylosis, Suicide Silence, Oceano a. o.).
I am not going to write a complete history; just this: the band was formed in 2007 at Basingstoke, U.K., and they’ve always been on Candlelight. No thanks…
III lasts for almost seventy (!) minutes and was recorded by founding members Richard Thomson (v) and Michael Pitman (d), bass player Christopher Clark (he performed on II too), and newly recruited guitarist Conor McGouran. The album opens with I Hold Dominion, which starts very promising: a heroic, victorious introduction, based on majestic, symphonic keyboards, and supported by whispers and percussions. After not so long, drums, guitars and basses join in, and the song transforms into a gargantuan Epic / Symphonic Death / Black monster. It’s a slow-paced hymn with both screams and grunts, both atmospheric and bombastic keyboards, and an extremely heavy rhythm section. But… after three minutes, things seem to evolve the rather surprisingly new way. I Hold Dominion turns into a modern and progressive Groove / Heavy track with hints of Metalcore??? WTF?! Imagine my surprise - and disappointment. So, what about the second track, 2053? Well, it starts pretty dark and majestically bombastic, focusing on Symphonic Death / Black epic once again. Maybe the first track, or better: the second half of that song, was a coincidence? It must be, because this second composition does not come with those unnecessary proggy and catchy elements. Track three, I Hunt For The Weak, however, totally destroys my futile hope. And as from here on, things go completely wrong. All right, I am slightly exaggerating, but continue reading and understand my frustration. This album is filled with the terrible contrasts in between modernised catchiness and magic bombast. At the one hand there are the very oppressive, slowly pounding and hammering passages that also coloured some parts of the former album. These parts bring great Doom-laden heaviness with a mystic atmosphere. And it does not always need to be very slow to impress, because a couple of faster Thrash-edged outbursts strengthen the victorious intentions with ease. But the unique experimentations of II are gone, and seem to be replaced by a certain search for quasi-predictable comfort. I write ‘quasi-predictable’, because the uncountable number of hooks, breaks, tempo-changes etc. isn’t that evident. But since the approach did turn into a progressive and modern one, it all sounds way catchier and, excuse me for the definition, and don’t take it too literally either: poppy, partly caused as well by the increased use of electronics. The obscure dimensions of Xerath’s second album have been replaced by clearer ones, still inventive and creative, but of a clearer / cleaner kind.
You might think I am repelled by the album for what I wrote above. That’s not true, at least not completely, for it is clear that these guys are great composers and skilled performers. For sure III is an enthralling sonic experiment which will appeal to a huge audience. It isn’t but my personal opinion (even a reviewer has his preferences, of course), but some will agree and follow my thoughts. After II, III is just, eh, another step within this band’s permanently evolving history.