Released: 2017, Cimmerian Shade Recordings
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
It's a crowded little subgenre these days, melodic death metal. There's a lot of it out there, and any band venturing into that territory runs a distinct risk of being lost amid the masses. I can't say the curiously named X.Kernel produce something astounding, but nor is it just another dime-a-dozen melodeath record without anything to distinguish it.
What this Ukrainian band brings to the table is a bit of a gothic flourish, primarily in their use of keyboards. At the core it's the same kind of accessible melodeath we've heard from In Flames, Arch Enemy or Raintime, but now with something of a dark gothic flavour not a million miles from what The Vision Bleak pull off, mostly done through the keyboards, which have some delightfully harpsichord-y moments, such as in "Stay Alive". I've heard a comparison drawn to some of the music from the Castlevania series of video games, and that's neither inaccurate nor a bad thing. There's even a dash of power metal here and there that can recall Mercenary's mid-2000s work, though this band have a way to go if they want to achieve quite that level of epic grandeur. "No Fate", in its mid-section, shows what they're capable of, with the riffs, keyboard melodies and vicious growls layering over one another, rising up and up into a brief bass section before slamming down the pedal and cranking out some smashing lead work.
If it suffers from anything it's that the production quality is somewhat basic. Not poor quality sound, just not very expertly mixed, the different elements of the music sound very distinct from one another rather than mixed into a seamless whole. In "Exhausted" for example, both aspects, the guitars and the keyboards, are great, and they even work off one another pretty well, but you can definitely hear a gap between them sonically. Then again, this is perhaps to be expected from a young band starting out, and doesn't ruin the experience by any means.
Right now, X.Kernel are dipping their toes into these power and gothic metal waters, and it feels like taking that plunge could help them stand out amid the thick crowd of melodeath albums. Proper commitment to the elements that help them stand out and more tracks like "Dying Gods", "The Last War" and "Stay Alive" would work wonders going forward. But that's work for the future: what we have here and now is a solid first full-length offering from a young band, and it's certainly worth looking into for fans of the genre.