Xanthochroid started out their career by putting out the Incultus EP in 2011, followed by their stellar debut album Blessed He With Boils the following year. The years that followed were full of touring and some notable covers that gained some press, but the main objective was to have their current project see the light of day; an ambitious double album that has reached us now with the first volume Of Erthe And Axen – Act I. And to explain the band’s sound to a new listener is somewhat difficult as they have an amalgam of styles being put forth as one cohesive idea. Black, power, prog, folk; it’s all meshed together in convincing fashion.
‘Open The Gates O Forest Keeper’, with lots of stringed and brass instruments, opens up the album in an epic and theatrical way, and ‘To Lost And Ancient Gardens’ follows with an acoustic opening with soft singing and delicate female vocals thrown in to compliment the male voice at the forefront. It’s interesting how both of these songs are relatively short and give us an introduction to the album before the third song. Most times there’s a short intro to an album and then bombast follows right away. Xanthochroid goes against the grain and chooses the slow build, which is unique and welcoming.
‘To Higher Climes Where Few Might Stand’ is where the black metal tone with the signature distortion and brooding mood comes in, but the music follows a power metal meets black format, which is interesting, especially with a mix of clean and harsh vocals. This song goes to show that their unique mix of different metal styles is still intact from their last album that was out in 2012. It’s epic and features lots of twists and turns to keep the listener engaged, and shows plenty of softer moments interspersed with the hard ones. ‘To Souls Distant And Dreaming’ starts off with an interesting picked bass line which then leads to light guitar and drums. There’s a laid back pace in general that drives the song, which is a bit surprising to me since this is the third song out of four so far to be in a softer vein. ‘In Deep And Wooded Forests Of My Youth’ continues on with the trend and reminds me of something that would’ve fit in well with medieval times.
Thankfully, ‘The Sound Of Hunger Rises’ gets back to the metal drive that the band has lacked on this album so far. This song features a mid-paced double-bass drum approach, and has lots of the cinematic flair that is a trademark of their heavy sound, along with some interesting riffs that leads the song in different pacing at times. However, the track ends in a slow and folky haze, which is a letdown considering I was hoping that they could’ve shown the strong side of the group for at least one more song in full at this point. And with ‘The Sound Of A Glinting Blade’, at this point I realize that waiting for the album to pick up with some consistency is a lost effort, although the harmonious and solo vocal efforts on this song are noteworthy even though at five minutes in length, this track is fairly forgettable.
‘The Sound Which Has No Name’ brings the album to a close, and the triumphant and conquering nature of the music saves the album from going out on a slow or forgettable note. The song is quite memorable in approach and drive with the band throwing all of their key elements into the mix to make an exciting composition.
I must admit that I like the concept of putting out a double album in staggered fashion. If it’s memorable enough, it leaves the fan clamoring for the next chapter instead of being given everything all at once. However, in this case I find that the idea of putting out the whole project at once would’ve served the band better, because if both albums are meant to accomplish a grand objective, then I find it hard to rank this album without knowing where the future will take me as a listener.
I’m at a loss as to what to say about this collection of songs when I know it’s accompanying piece is forthcoming in the future. While a band like Opeth made a point of stating during the ‘Deliverance/Damnation’ sessions that one album would be a purely soft and melodic album, they also mentioned how the other would be a true-to-form exploration of their already established sound. Perhaps if Xanthochroid could have put forth some information on whether this album will be the softer calm before the storm of ‘Act II’ is delivered, then I’d know how to properly digest this album. This isn’t me dumping on the effort or the music, but I have no clue if this album marks a departure in their metal tendencies, or if it’s a precursor to a bigger motive and delivery with a more metalized ‘Act II’.
The music is big and robust, and shows creativity that a lot of veteran acts fail to grasp at times, but I just feel underwhelmed by this first part installment. I hope that the second-half of the project gives us more rewards as a listener.
1) Open The Gates O Forest Keeper
2) To Lost And Ancient Gardens
3) To Higher Climes Where Few Might Stand
4) To Souls Distant And Dreaming
5) In Deep And Wooded Forests Of My Youth
6) The Sound Of Hunger Rises
7) The Sound Of A Glinting Blade
8) The Sound Which Has No Name
Playing Time: 44:26
Sam Meador – lead vocals, keyboards, acoustic guitar
Matthew Earl – drums and percussion, flute, backing vocals
Brent Vallefuoco – lead guitar
David Bodenhoefer – second guitar
Bryan Huizenga – bass