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Not bad, but no dice either. - 55%

Diamhea, November 4th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Candlelight Records

Chalk Xerath up as yet another band that I should really enjoy, but just cannot fully get into for whatever pretext. Despite carrying on the long-standing institution of just about every band whose name starts with an X sucking in some regard, they hope to purport their atypical slant on mechanized groove metal as something grand in degree and scope. This much is evident by their succinctly-titled album titles, which obviously attempt to link the chains on the way to some sort of narrative "epic" yarn during which the listener can enjoy fluid consistency from soup to nuts when tackling Xerath's catalogue in full. Well, they've certainly got me there, as III is for all intents and purposes more of the same from these Englishmen, with a few positive changes of note revolving around some recent lineup fluctuations. Don't get me wrong, this genre mash-up has some potential, Mechina have all but proven this; their flesh-into-gear amalgam of layered, meticulous orchestration and dessicated, hard-edged riffs that flutter like a series of alternating diodes is enjoyable if only for how overblown it is, yet also sells the otherworldly subject matter exceedingly well.

Xerath just...can't get it right for whatever reason. On one end we have a riff set that exudes a fair amount of lethality, what with a primal, obsidian guitar tone that just exudes diesel and claims a few victims every time it lets off steam. Combine this with phoned-in, amateur keyboards and it doesn't really attain the cosmos it so blatantly reaches for. The orchestrations are what kill this for me, as it could have been so much more if more care was put into their deployment. The first two albums were felled by gaffes of similar caliber, and III continues to disappoint in this regard. These aren't brash synths like are normally associated with melodeath, these are simply programmed orchestrations that come off as a complete afterthought, interjected at the eleventh hour in a vain attempt to broaden the record's scope. They are almost always either following the riffs ad nauseam, or branching off into spastic, cinematic oeuvres that start to gain some traction when the riffs slide into their comfort zone, but otherwise just fill space in between the better spots.

The album does start quite well, however. "2053" sets this Venusian stage quite coherently. The extended drone that leads into the next track hints of something massive coming, and "Autonomous" lives up to this forecast fairly well. Nice Meshuggah worship on this one, and with the orchestrations in effective lockstep with the drums and guitars, I can find little to complain about. The piston-charged temperament of "Passenger" is also a highlight, proving that the band can pull things together without the garish synths nipping at the listener's heels the entire time. I'm confident that many of these recent improvements are courtesy of newcomer Conor McGouran, who adds a fair amount of diversity to the primary assault, setting III apart from its two inferior predecessors. A smattering of melodic licks and surprisingly apt solos help shake the cobwebs of lethargic templates long retained, and the album benefits greatly as a result.

Tonal stagnancy has always been an issue with Xerath, so the surprisingly uplifting "Veil Pt. 1" was a refreshing shot to the arm of this listener. The band actually pulls it off quite well, and I would like to see more of the same from them in the future. It may seem that I really hate this band, but I do enjoy a fair bit of their material, with most of it claiming home here on III. This is easily Xerath's best album so far, but this is hardly a merit worth swooning over on its own. Combine their current riffs with better songwriting, more professionally-employed keyboards, or both and we may have something worth getting excited over. A third of this record is pretty killer, but on the whole it fails to evoke the nebular breadth the band was aiming for. I would be lying if I said this wasn't an improvement, however.