Album Title: III
Label: Candlelight Records
Year of Release: 2014
UK extreme metallers Xerath return with their third album, ‘III’ and in keeping with ‘I’ and ‘II’ before it, have not wasted any precious time in thinking of a new approach to album titles. Simply titled it may be but instead, once again, the talented quartet have expended every ounce of effort on the compositions themselves, thereby taking the listener on another ambitious and enormously gratifying voyage into the world of heavy and technical cinematic modern extreme metal. Indeed the band, comprised of new boy Conor McGouran (guitars) alongside long-term members Michael Pitman (drums), Richard Thomson (vocals) and Christopher Clark (bass) should be very proud of their accomplishments here. Why exactly? Read on.
The album opens up with the seven-minute ‘I Hold Dominion’, a track that sets the tone for what is to follow beautifully. The first minute is pure blockbuster film score territory where the symphonic influences take the lead. You can tell the track is building to something though and so it proves as a gargantuan riff joins the party, leaving you in no doubt about Xerath’s extreme metal tendencies. From then on, complex polyrhythmic riffs twist and turn, the rhythm section pounds with relentless precision and occasional guitar solos add their own breezy embellishments. Thomson’s vocals sit atop the music, alternating between a growled bark and a soaring clean delivery. The latter adds to the not-inconsiderable melodic aspect of the composition and compliments wonderfully the ever-present orchestration that sits at the heart of Xerath’s music.
Follow-up track ‘2053’ is more of a straight-up extreme metal track, if such a thing can be said about a Xerath composition. The symphonic elements still dominate but are complimented by furious double-pedal drumming and savagely incisive riffs that, thanks to the chosen tones and the precision with which they are executed, are a joy to behold. ‘I Hunt For The Weak’ on the other hand has, at its heart, a fantastic chorus which is genuinely anthemic and, thanks to the return of Thomson’s clean vocals, adds a brilliantly epic quality to the track.
I may have picked on the first three songs up until now, but rest assured the quality exhibited by these tracks is replicated time and time again throughout ‘III’. What I particularly like about this album is the way in which every different idea has been incorporated into the music in such a seamless and smooth fashion. The orchestral aspect for example which includes a live string quartet does not feel clunky, nor does it come across as if it has been bolted on to some death metal tracks as an afterthought. Instead, the classical element is the lifeblood of the music, the ingredient that is integral and without which, the music wouldn’t live and breathe.
Speaking of death metal, this is something of a disingenuous simplification on my part. Death metal may be the biggest influence at play, but there are also elements of thrash, black, prog and modern tech metal to be heard if you are prepared to listen carefully enough and give ‘III’ the time and attention that it deserves. Again, nothing feels out of place and the ability to segue from one apparently disparate idea to another so fluently is very impressive indeed.
One criticism that can be levelled of music of this nature is that it can get a little much after a while and can lose the attention of the listener. This is especially true when an album consists of 14 tracks and lasts for well over an hour. And whilst I’d argue, albeit tamely, that this album wouldn’t suffer unduly from a slight trim here and there, the sheer amount of music on offer here is not a problem. The consistent quality of both the songwriting and the execution, coupled with the willingness to experiment with different ideas, textures and aural landscapes means that the listener is held rapt from start to finish. Each listen yields something new and the sheer grandiosity of the whole thing cannot fail but to excite even the most jaded and cynical of music lovers.
Honestly, the scale of the whole album is just mind blowing, delighting and pulverising at each and every turn. Several bands over the years have attempted something similar but if it was ever in any doubt, ‘III’ simply blows away any thought that there is a band out there that can do this better right now. Xerath are at the top of their game and if there’s any justice in this world, ‘III’ can only cement their place amongst the extreme metal elite.
The Score of Much Metal: 9