Released: 2014, Candlelight Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
England’s Xerath don’t believe in doing things in half measures – except maybe their album titles. Describing themselves as “Orchestral Groove Metal,” the quartet’s third album – accurately, though unimaginatively, titled III, which logically follows up its predecessors, I and II – is as big, brash and ostentatious as they come.
Though a mere quartet - with the traditional vocals, guitar, drums and bass - Xerath have the sound of band with twice as many members, such are the layers upon layers of riffs, keyboards and orchestration they build into the music. These guys are going to need some serious MacBook Pro computing power to be able to replicate the instrumentation here - and from their previous releases, for that matter - onstage, since I doubt they will be toting a string section around with them to accompany tracks like 'Sentinels" or "Death Defiant."
III is monumental, even by Xerath's standards. The sprawling 14-song opus clocks in at nearly 70 minutes and leads off with the longest song on the album, the 7:11 behemoth "I Hold Dominion." The overall sound here recalls a mashup of Soilwork, Death Cult Armaggedon-era Dimmu Borgir and Devin Townsend at his most outlandish - especially in Richard Thomson's holler-and-sing vocals and the band's knack for taking basic hard rock elements and crafting them into something otherworldly and epic. For everything that is going on in III, it is an inherently catchy album, especially on riffier tracks like "Bleed This Body Clean."
New guitarist Conor McGouran brings a progressive flair with his nimble, yet surprisingly understated, lead work, though it's his cascading riffs - and lots of them - that command most of the attention here. Lord knows how many guitar tracks he actually recorded for III, he certainly earned his paycheck.
Things do bog down a bit - especially around the middle and at the end, with largely instrumental two-part "Veil" closing things out on a superfluous note - under the sheer weight of the music, given its rather deliberate pace, groove upon groove construction and wall of sound presentation. But then moments like "Passenger," with Michael Putman's nifty shuffling drum pattern and a gang-sung chorus that is the grandest on an already grandiose album, or the forboding clangor of "Demigod Doctrine," roll around to give things a lift.
Audacity needn't necessarily equal wankery, and Xerath prove that here in spades. III may be overblown, but it’s not self-indulgent or showy. And I’ll take bombast over busy fingers any day.