Some albums are immediate and fleeting, revealing to you their secrets easily. However most of time these records evaporate quickly from the mind, like pavement puddles on August days. Leaving in their wake merely the faint mental outline of where they used to reside; a ghostly, musical tidemark on the sidewalk of life.
To me the most rewarding LP’s are the ones where you are not given an easy ride, where you have to put in the time and actually listen attentively to what is happening before you. And through this attention and work are granted access to a magical world, sealed off from others less committed and diligent. Appreciating by dint of your devotion the complexity of a landscape for what it is rather than glossing over any challenging section with the magnolia paint of distraction.
Prior to listening to this album, I thought that I knew Xerath and their sonorous brand of orchestral tech-groove metal; excellence in playing, rousing string arrangements and a chorus or 2 for me to sing repeatedly (to my wife’s great and justifiable annoyance), with their “Meshuggah produced by Devin Townsend” vibe.
But what confronted me as I allowed the sultry, savagery of iii to assail my ears, was quite a different beast than what I had expected.
To begin with it is deep; deep and complex like a James Clavell novel set in the Marianas Trench. 14 songs long, each with its own mysterious self-appointed rules and strictures. Rules, that if this album was a game, would be much like those in chess; initially forbidding but once understood, the gateway to intense pleasure and unending engagement.
The instruments engage in interplay that is both considered and instinctive. Poly-rhythmic patterns not just limited to the drums, but engaged across the ensemble. Entwining with each other like knitted wool; sometimes open loomed and gently indulgent, others tightly meshed and immutable in their shape.
The focus of the album modulates across forms without seeming itinerant or rootless, perhaps because of the tonal restraint employed and the impeccably balanced mix. Both of which smooth the transitions between genres explored, allowing echoes of Pantera to sit happily and contented alongside passages redolent of Earth, Wind and Fire.
In fact Pantera and Dimebag in particular are an influence very much at play within the dynamic structure of this record. New guitarist Conor McGouran has openly stated his love for the Southern Tread Killers. Saying in his interview with us, how Vinnie P and the boys were a real island of musical common ground as the new Xerath line up gelled together in the studio. Riffs which appear simple on first listen but then billow in the ears, allowing hidden complexity and nuance to take prominence.
This quality, the Iceberg like nature of Xeraths music (only 10% visible, 90% left for you to find under the surface), is one of this albums truly engaging strengths. Their knack for writing songs with an orchestral purity notwithstanding, it is this that keeps me returning time and again to this band; each visit giving rise to the vigorous sensation that I have more to discover, ruminate and appreciate about this band.
Artfully blended synthetic and live strings provide aesthetic counterpoint to each other in the way that they bolster and engage with the main body of the music. Providing thermals where the music needs an avian grace and shards of ice where a violent staccato is required to reinforce the metal credentials of this lucid and eclectically influenced group of musicians. Sometimes these enhancing orchestrations exist as a gossamer strand of delicate accompaniment; at others a swelling pulmonary resonance- filling the present melody with lungfuls of fresh, uncluttered air. Granting each phrase its own distinct moment in the redolent musical sun.
Within the texture of this orchestral backing there is a pervasive sense of cinematic atmospherics; their application grown mature and more intuitively applied than in their previous outings. Which imbues the tracks with a highly developed sense of time and place. This is Xeraths real trump card, their USP if you will. Their ability to instil their music with a genuine sense of drama. Be that drama disposable or epic, salvation or cataclysm, domesticity or impending doom; all that they do they do with verve, dedication to the moment, excitement and drama.
This crescendo of praise is almost a criticism too, as merely listening to this work left me with the feeling of being, artistically, only partially sated; with only the musical half of the whole human theatre being fulfilled. But Xerath are just a band, not an Opera company, so my critical sleight in this regard is doomed to always be feint.
When I said that you must pay attention and commit to this album for it to deliver you its treasure, do not for a moment think that it is hard work to listen to. It is a fluid and cohesively conceived work, with songs that both stir and energise the body.
Drumming that delights and inspires with its poetic precision and fulsome engagement with every section of the syncopatic scale. The guitar playing is a hive of inventive riffing, slyly textured and attenuated to suit each circumstance. The bass is conscious and obliquely courageous, dancing between the thunder of the drums and the raindrops of the guitar with a grace laden Terpsichorean flexibility. iii rewards simply and directly with surface perusal but give this album time and watch it open like an oyster, revealing multiple pearls within.
Each song is marked with its own distinctive cardiac stomp. This singular approach to pacing could serve to frustrate some, particularly those new to Xerath; but it is the versatility of riff, rhythm and chorus which uniquely inhabits each moment that gives them, as a band, their defining traits and, reductively, this album its joy of life.
Some albums are of moment, fleeting and soon forgotten. This album will resist your embrace and by virtue of its hard to get nature, become one of the surest and most passionate lovers you have ever had. Musically, of course.
– John Whitmore