Originally written by Jordan Campbell
Xerath‘s debut, I, is inhuman.
In a bad way.
Typically, the use of such a descriptor is regarded as a positive. Throughout the history of metaldom, legions of bands have effectively transformed their terrestrial selves into something beyond the pale. Thrashers in the 1980’s sped themselves into torrents of maniacal rage, feigning insanity and pushing normalcy to the brink. Death metallers have long been channeling the cadaverous and grotesque, re-animating themselves into fetid, zombified creatures hellbent on blunt force punishment. And hordes of black metal warriors have been channeling the shrieks of Satan Himself for ages, marching upon waves of fire to bestial blasts of war.
These manifestations are the work of master sculptors, carefully casting themselves in a creative mold while retaining the vital human element. But Xerath‘s superficial brand of symphonic/pseudo-industrial groove metal sounds utterly…manufactured. Mass-produced. Canned, compressed, cold-filtered, and clichéd. The all-important element of humanity has been sucked dry by ProTools and “modern” production gloss, making I sound as if it were engineered in a lab by keytar-wielding androids.
Exacerbating Xerath‘s assembly-line rigidity is their massive hard-on for all things Meshuggah, Fear Factory, and Gojira. In 2009, this type of thing is prevalent to the point of saturation, and Xerath seems to be slightly aware of this. Without some type of augmentation, their attempt at nailing the style would likely disappear in the shuffle, especially when considering the directionless, clumsy, and abrupt nature of their compositions.
Xerath have attempted to peacock themselves by playfully dubbing their style “chugscore.” Essentially, this alludes to the way they’ve plastered synthetic symphonics underneath their monotonous molehills of mosh-groove, attempting to capture the majesty of a motion picture soundtrack. While I’m sure that McG will be thrilled to have found a cheap way to score his upcoming adaptation of Vectorman, the airy, Disneyesque tackiness of their tinker-dink programming is decidedly less than stellar. Even if the synth work were bolder and darker, it’d still be fighting for air against the superchug guitar work and overly abrasive vocals.
Guitarists Owain Williams and Andy Phillips stick to Michael Pitman’s drumming (and themselves) like glue. “Consequences” is textbook FF stomp, but the unimaginative riffing makes Christian Olde Wolbers sound like Abbath by comparison. Rarely do they stray from boneheaded lockstep, and when they do (“Reform Part 2” and “Right to Exist”) they’re stealing blatantly from the HevyDevy playbook. In addition, Richard Thomson’s vocals are too static, too tough-guy, too pseudo-death for the music; he’s on a serious Joe Duplaintier/Jens Kidman trip, and the lack of variation adds little texture to a sound that starves for it. He shines on “False History,” but the fire is fleeting. Xerath‘s attack isn’t terribly heavy (again, the power-sucking production isn’t doing them any favors), and it’s painfully obvious that clean vocals would add much-needed texture and depth to their soundscape.
As a whole, I is disappointingly half-baked; it’s a stitched-up collection of unfleshed ideas and fruitless skyreaching. Sybreed and Septic Flesh have recently explored similar avenues to great success (industrially and symphonically, respectively), and if Xerath are to establish themselves as a viable contemporary, they must make great strides in expanding, refining, and humanizing their sound.
The future can’t be reached by lateral movement, and peripheral vision will never guide you out of a crowd.