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Xanthochroid is a band that managed to get on many people’s radar by doing an acoustic-folk cover of Wintersun’s “Land of Snow and Sorrow.” That is when I first heard of them and since then I have discovered that they are probably my musical kindred spirits. These guys know how to write music and it shows in all of their releases. Xanthochroid released a full-length in late 2012 titled “Blessed He With Boils” and it was a great album that was met with much critical acclaim, especially for such a young band. What is often overlooked though is Xanthochroid’s 2011 EP “Incultus” -- which is a shame, because quite frankly, though the production on “Blessed He with Boils” is better, “Incultus” has better songs. I think that “Blessed He with Boils” works amazingly as a whole concept album, but when one takes an individual song away from the whole, it doesn’t stand as well on its own (the major exceptions being “Blessed He with Boils” and "In Putris Stagnum”). Incultus, on the other hand has 4 distinct tracks that, while telling a part of a continuing story lyrically, all can stand on their own.
Xanthochroid’s sound and songwriting is clearly influenced by the likes of Opeth, Emperor, and Moonsorrow. If you like those bands you will probably like this. Xanthochroid proves with “Incultus” that they are seriously talented musicians; the drumming is impeccable and as good if not better than any other drumming I have heard on any other extreme metal release.
The Incultus EP's opening track “The Last Relic of Axen” has a beautiful and haunting sounding acoustic guitar accompanied by a flute and some subtle strings, which then explodes in a blazingly fast tremolo picked blast-beat accompanied riff. At this point, you should be hooked. This is what the whole album is like: little hooks that pierce you and drag you in. The compositions are thoughtful enough that you will lose track of time and be left wondering where the last 30 minutes of your life went. From the evil church-organ interlude in "Iced, In Extremis" to the, dare I say, epic choir backed by tasteful synth keys and pounding drums in "Incultus" Xanthochroid shows that they left nothing to chance. This is a thoroughly thought-out album. If only we could see this same caliber of songwriting from more metal bands. All of the tracks are layered together with great precision and thought: the piano, drums, bass, keys, vocals; they all work together to form a marvelous musical tapestry. Each song builds itself up to a climax that then ushers the listener into the next track.
Not only is the composition great, but the display of music talent is quite apparent. The guitar riffs are fast, and very much on time. The drumming alone is incredible - this album is worth a listen for that reason alone. Though this album has only one guitar solo, found on the final track "Incultus," it is tastefully done and technically proficient. One of my favorite aspects of this album are the harsh vocals. A lot of unsigned/underground bands can suffer from bad vocals, or at least generic ones. Vocalist Sam Meador could be an Ihsahn impersonator, though he manages to remain distinct. He is talented at what he does, and the fact the he does some of the clean vocal duties as well is just plain impressive. Check out his bone chilling howl at 02:55 in "Iced, In Extremis."
The lyrics are also quite good and possess a fair bit of poetic prowess that, when combined with Sam Meador's vocal style, are quite powerful. This is particularly evident in "Wormwood" which starts with the shrieked lines: “All the trivial pleasures of Erthe/ Are but bile and bitter venom.” Near the end of the song we can hear the more mournful words “I hope it’s cold/ I hope it hurts” that add to the emotional depth of the song.
Overall, this is a phenomenal album well worth your time. This album is exemplary of what the symphonic/progressive/black metal genre should be. Xanthochroid are talented musicians and songwriters who know how to tastefully write music. There is not excessive fret-wankery here with guitar solos stacked upon guitar solos with no meaningful purpose, tather Xanthochroid are telling a story in the more beautiful way possible, which at times calls for elegant simplicity. Those who love “Blessed He with Boils” will find that the production is not as tight on “Incultus” and the clean singing is not as polished. But in terms of black metal with great songwriting, it really does not get much better than this. Xanthochroid labels themselves as “Cinematic Black Metal” and this release clearly shows why.