'II' - Xerath (4/10)
Xerath is a band from the UK that got some people excited with their debut. In 2009, the roman-numerically designated 'I' impressed many who listened with its powerhouse take on progressive metal, falling somewhat into what some call the 'djent' sound in metal, but also bringing some new sounds to the table, most notably some orchestral sounds. Technically impressive progressive metal with symphonic undertones is a fascinating formula in concept, and with their follow-up album 'II', Xerath continues to explore this sound. True enough to the acclaim I've been hearing about the band, they certainly know how to bring their skill as musicians to the table. All the same however, I am finding that this band's so-called 'distinctive' elements pass me as being little more than gimmicks, although by all intents, this is a decent contribution to the djent music community.
What one is bound to hear on a song from this album will generally consist of heavy, palm- muted guitar riffs that sound quite a bit like Meshuggah, as well as some screamed vocals and a heavy synth presence. For those uninformed about the djent sound, it is essentially a group of bands that dabble in the strange rhythms and palm-muted guitar techniques that Meshuggah largely pioneered, and as far as emulating Meshuggah's deep grooves go, Xerath succeeds. These are technical riffs that have 'progressive metal' spelled all over them, although despite the technical achievement of these guitar parts, there is very little melodic structure to them, and they start feeling all the same by the time the album is over. While Xerath executes their sound beautifully, the inherent lack of melody or surprise in this music led me feeling the unwanted sense of deja vu long before the album was over, and it makes the album's fifty-odd minute length feel much longer than it actually is.
The thing that many have been really swooning over with this band are the so-called orchestral elements. Xerath self-proclaims themselves to be 'orchestral groove metal', and while they do have the effective repetition and groove aspect down, the orchestral element here was what really disappointed me. Instead of a full blown symphonic arrangement or even fleshed string section as the term 'orchestral' implies, I was confronted by fairly cheap- sounding emulations, most likely either done on a computer, or with a synth. It's quite understandable that a working band is not often able to afford an orchestra, but things could have still worked out brilliantly if the arrangements here were anything that truly lived up to an orchestral standard. Instead, there is no symphonic element that gets me even close to thinking I'm hearing an orchestral score, usually, the orchestra is merely adding a deeper sound miles behind the metal aspect of Xerath, sustaining a note and then changing with the chords. The symphonic presence here does add a new depth to the band's sound, but overall, it feels more like a half-successful gimmick to distinguish themselves, rather than a valid artistic accomplishment.
Xerath's 'II' is a well-performed album, but there is nothing to the music that ever really excites me; the djenty tones and proggy metal riffs are all things that have been done much better by other acts doing a similar thing, and while Xerath should be acknowledged for trying to bring something new to the sound, the orchestral thing isn't doing much for them.