Reviews

REVIEW: Xanthochroid – “Of Erthe And Axen, Act I”

All who desire a straight thrashing and a casual listen need not enter here. Heed this warning, fair reader, for what cometh henceforth only the bravest of warriors and most sage of mages may bear without undue toil! For the second full-length album by Xanthochroid shalt be released on August 22.

Consume Lactaid™ and Read On

All cheese aside, Of Erthe and Axen, Act I (Act II is due October 17 this year) is a most profound work of what Xanthochroid describe as ‘cinematic black metal’. Their self-assigned genre label fits, their sound being built around big chords, sweeping melodies, and careful orchestration. Xanthochroid take their cue from the more cerebral black metal bands like latter-day Emperor, Dimmu Borgir, and Moonsorrow (one might observe some similarities to Ne Obliviscaris and even Epica, too) for their general sound, and include the rather un-kvlt staple known as clean singing, by both a man and a woman. They have some kvlt screaming and growling, alternating in the familiar Jeckyll & Hyde way. The whole thing is stunningly beautiful.

A title like Of Erthe and Axen, Act I could only denote a concept album. In fact, the whole band is built around a concept. Xanthochroid created a fantasy world (see map below) and a meta-plot of sibling rivalry in dynastic succession. Fans of Game Of Thrones or Dungeons & Dragons® will feel right at home here.

Erthe according to Xanthochroid

The World of Etymos according to Xanthochroid

The Music

The whole thing starts off in an appropriately cinematic style, with “Open the Gates O Forest Keeper” having the grandiose sound of an epic movie soundtrack. This gives way to the beautiful love duet “To Lost and Ancient Gardens”. Xanthochroid tastefully set it against an acoustic guitar rather than keyboards. Given that one of the singers is a keyboardist, this shows good compositional judgment and restraint; something one might not expect in such a high-concept work.

We finally get treated to something heavy when “To Higher Climes Where Few Might Stand” plays. It builds up to a heavy conclusion (there’s no point in slamming the listeners’ faces in after such a gentle start to the album, after all).

They follow up with the even heavier “To Souls Distant and Dreaming” for which sadly there is no video to embed here.

They did make an actual video for “In Deep Wooded Forests of My Youth”, however. This is the least ‘metal’ song on Of Erthe and Axen, Act I. No distorted guitars here, and the instrumentation relies heavily on a flute, an Irish whistle, and an accordion. Do note that the beautiful scenery shown here is most likely in the vicinity of Xanthochroid’s home town of Lake Forest, CA.

They follow up on this with a heavier song, “The Sound of Hunger Rises”. Xanthochroid use the standard ‘let’s be eerie and creep people out’ tactic of beginning it with Latin chanting. The song otherwise conforms to Of Erthe and Axen, Part I’s slow and medium tempos, big chords, and meaningful orchestral flourishes.

In spite of the violence hinted in its title, “The Sound of a Glinting Blade” is on the same gentle level as “In Deep Wooded Forests of My Youth”. The Irish whistle gets counterpoint from orchestral keyboard patches, making it a less minimalist affair. “The Sound of a Glinting Blade” builds through an elongated choral section and then some vaguely heavy guitar work to a crescendo that segues into the final song, entitled “The Sound Which Has No Name” (though if they decided to name it, ‘Epic Heaviness Without Subtlety’ might work).

Not a scorcher, “The Sound Which Has No Name” nonetheless seeks to wrap up Of Erthe and Axen, Act I by overwhelming the listener on every level. And it succeeds, though lacking the finality of an epic ending. And why ought it have that? After all, it is merely the end of Act I. On a more serious note, “The Sound Which Has No Name” encapsulates the entire album, having the same pacing and using every element found in every song before it. Someone knew a thing or two about opera before writing this album.

Xanthochroid

Xanthochroid

Analysis

Of Erthe and Axen, Act I will be loved by anyone who likes their metal big and expressive. Purists and elitists will hate it through and through, and that is a shame, because bands like Xanthochroid help keep the genre’s standards high by showing what it can achieve.

Xanthochroid’s Of Erthe and Axen, Act I will be released on the band’s Of Erthe and Axen record label (which has a YouTube presence) on August 22, 2017 (with Act II coming on October 17 — read It Djents for teasers and a review when they come). Pre-orders and bundles are available.

 

Score: 8/10

FFO: Emperor, Dimmu Borgir, Moonsorrow, Ne Obliviscaris, Epica

Notable Tracks: “To Souls Distant and Dreaming”; “The Sound Which Has No Name;” “To Higher Climes Where Few Might Stand”

Xanthochroid have a web page, a Facebook profile, a Bandcamp account, and also can be followed on Twitter and Instagram.

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