What A Surprise/Background:
Sometimes when reviewing, things come your way that stop you in your tracks. Hearing for the first time the band Xael did just that. I started listening before reading any of the press release and from the moment I hit play I was captivated. The music really grabbed and moved me and the use of voices when the words kicked in was/is fascinating. To give you a little background the band started in 2017 releasing an album in 2018 called The Last Arbiter of which only one member still remains for their second in Joshua “Nassaru” Ward who has moved from guitar to drums this time around.
The new album Bloodtide Rising due to be released February 15 on Pavement Entertainment now also features Brad Parris bassist from death metal outfit Nile along with prog master Chris Hathcock who is the man behind The Reticent. The album has 9 tracks all between the lengths of 3 to 6 minutes long meaning it is a short album by modern terms around 38 mins. All 5 members are down as doing vocals so I am not sure who does what on the album but the variety is outstanding. Musically it is also quite diverse and keeps the listener on their toes. All of it would make a terrific soundtrack to a horror movie (a classy one not a slasher). I found it easy to sit back and listen all the way through in one sitting sometimes with my eyes shut as I drifted along with the mood and the melodies.
Sinister Meets Melody:
Opener “Suun Rai Aru (Passion Begets Ruin)” starts with keys, long synth notes with slow and precise piano playing, quiet and simple sounding as slowly percussion comes in, all tribal and threatening. Then the vocals appear, chanting, warrior-like, a mix of clean and throaty till it drops back down to piano and synth again. 3 minutes of pure raw sounding emotion. “As Decreed (The Law Of Vuul Athmar)” starts with a sense of foreboding like something sinister is about to happen before the drumming kicks in and the song truly commences. There are several changes of pace and styles as it eventually twists itself into a beast of a black metal song. Before the end, it becomes a little more symphonic with clean and pleasant singing apart from the last sentence which is growled.
“The Waste Of Deadrift” and “Srai – The Demon Of Erring” flow one into the other perhaps as part of the same story. Both are magnificent listens, with so much going on that they keep the listener on edge. The former starts acoustically with some light percussion (possibly bongos) underneath until it goes full-scale metal after about a minute. The luscious melody continues quietly until it all drops down to piano with a little bit of synth. It is rather gentle and lilting with only a few harsh vocals going against the grain. The latter again starts eerily before the drums come in followed by a fabulous Sabbath style riff but with some fast fills in-between. There is an instrument which could be an “Erhu” a Chinese violin that has only 2 strings being played on this which gives off an interesting vibe all around (although there is also cello on the album it appears). The way the keys are rather jolly sounding yet the vocals are harsh works well as counterpoint. The one thing I notice is that no matter how heavy they get, there is always something melodic and pleasant going on in your ears.
Engaging And Theatrical:
“Dark World Mirrors” is suitably moody with the acoustic guitar and violin, even after the drums thunder in that theme keeps going. This was the song that most made me think of Opeth in the way the styles change so fluidly, from one of the heaviest riffs to an almost “Twilight Zone/Tales Of The Unexpected” piece of theatre. At one point there is either a female opera singer or a bizarre key effect as well. They really managed to keep the listener engaged… well this reviewer certainly is.
The whole album just flows like this, the title track being quite theatrical and warlike, imagine Viking metal at its tub-thumping best (or even like the Maori chants of Alien Weaponry) before turning into sounds of a musical box or child’s toy. “The Red Odyssey” seems to be an intro to the longer track with the same name (with “pt2 Temple Of The Sky” attached). It is very tribal sounding with chanting voices under the main vocals. It is quite bare sounding and has a drone effect, long dissonant notes running through it. The track which follows (pt2) has a lovely start. Very menacing with spaced out piano notes and the bass taking the front until it fully kicks in with frantic drumming. The fact that other instruments do not for the main part go at the same speed, are used quite sparingly at times adds to the drama. This has some “Huh“‘s being chanted again quite combative and native. Again some variations vocally between harsh and clean. The melody at the end sounds like the start of a hymn, very elegant. The album ends with “The Odium And The Contrition Master” which is another heavy sounding piece incorporating many of the styles and nuances used on the album.
Already A Candidate For Top 10 2021?:
The lyrics are about science and fantasy, from “wastelands of war-torn planets to the pits where the fallen gods fell” as the press release said. To be honest, lyrically it went over my head completely but anyone who is more into those things may get even more enjoyment out of Bloodtide Rising than I did. In which case they are in luck as it is a phenomenal listen even if you don’t understand what it is all about. Although we are only in the second month of 2021 I feel safe in saying this is easily going to be a top 10 album of the year. It is simply that strong. Absolutely captivating, interesting and fun.
Album Released February 15 on Pavement Entertainment.
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