25 April 2011
by Tom Dare
Second albums can be a tense time, but when the second album raises the standards significantly, hones what the debut did so distinctively from a rough sketch to the full glorious multicoloured picture – as Xerath have with II – the effect is instant. It’s taken me several weeks to calm down enough and stop shouting “FUCK YES!” so I can tell you about how brilliant this is.
Xerath’s brief is an original one- take down-tuned, groove-drenched riffs, fill them out with one of the most punishing rhythm sections in the UK today and wrap around it breath-taking, cinematic symphonics, and give the whole thing space-age, Strapping Young Lad-esque production so it all sounds fucking enormous. And in case you’re worried that the “symphonic” bit means Dimmu Borgir‘s bombast or power metal camp, fear not – it sounds epic and vast, but is much more subtle. Imagine if Emperor had sounded like they recorded on 23rd century equipment, not a four track mixer in a drafty garage and you’re not a million miles away.
There are a few crucial evolutions that have taken place since the debut. First, the vocals are less cookie-monster and more impassioned shriek, and it works much better, and allows much more in the way of variation. In addition, the occasional patch of clean singing (not whine, just singing) and gutteral roar that cut in are instantaneously effective. Secondly, the (rather florid) Meshuggah influence of I is lessened, the riffs being more groove-orientated or jazzily progressive than polyrhythmic. They’ll still snap your vertebrae nicely, but it owes more to Xerath’s identity than Destroy Erase Improve, and II is both more interesting and more original as a result.
Most crucially of all, the songwriting is improved beyond measure. The different elements react much more completely to form a cohesive compound, and it sounds clear that the band’s confidence in their sound is greater- and that with this confidence, they are happy not to limit themselves stylistically. The little interjections that flush out the piece – the proggy solo in ‘The Call To Arms‘ and the gnarly, Mayhem-esque black metal riff on ‘Enemy Incited Armageddon‘ to name two of the most brilliant – always feel part of the template, but shift the mood and feel in unexpected and wonderous ways.
Listen to ‘United To Defy’ by Xerath:
Despite the fact that we’ve been dicking on about Xerath for fucking ages here at Thrash Hits, I’m not entirely sure even the most optimistic of us expected them to release a sophomore record this wonderful, an album that hasn’t left the playlist no matter what else came along. II is a a cinematic journey that hangs together in perfect sequence, unafraid to venture beyond its own unique identity if that will result in the finest possible songs and an uplifting anthemic slab of excellence. Packed full of memorable, brilliant songs, the whole thing will make you want to bang your head hard enough to generate your own gravitational field.
Sounds like: Strapping Young Lad, sweeping film scores, Pantera
Top tracks: Unite To Defy, Reform Pt. III, Enemy Incited Armageddon
Xerath – II tracklisting:
Unite To Defy
God Of The Frontlines
Reform Pt. III
The Call To Arms
Sworn To Sacrifice
Enemy Incited Armageddon
Nuclear Self Eradication
Numbered Among The Dead
The Glorious Death- I. Divine Rapture II. A New Awakening