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Getting into the more obscure branches and scenes of death metal appears to me as a bit challenging. A genre as specific as progressive death metal, to me, isn’t widely known and little a band I can name that plays it. Bands like Cynic and Death have single albums dedicated to it, and Cattle Decapitation is a more extreme take on the subject but finding underground bands that play it as well as these titans takes some poking around. Luckily, my poking as brought to my attention the band XENOLITH, hailing from the progressive metal wonderland of Israel. Xenolith, though only having a single album to their name, offers death metal of the progressive variety, and their album ‘Obscure Reflections’ feels less like an album and more like a collection of extreme and expansive, epic operas, all tailored with brutal and intricate riffs.
To be frank, this album is a tad rough to chew through. I’m not averse to albums lasting longer than an hour, but the structure of ‘Obscure Reflections’ is best consumed in partial instances. Each song averages around 10 minutes in length, each commanding a hefty portion of interest and focus to fully enjoy, lest the next song begin before you realize you’re chomping into another 10-minute portion. Regardless of how you consume this album, your consumption is sure to find sprawling, extreme adventures in progressive death metal. Xenolith’s formula doesn’t favor one genre over the other, while keeping its roots firmly founded in death metal. The riffs are technical, melodic, precise and play in favor of the beautiful intricacies that make progressive music that much more majestic. The songwriting is top notch and knows exactly when to ease up on the intensity for more ethereal, feel good passages. You get the feeling that each song is a chapter in some sort of awesome story, and each amazing riff is another page of that gripping tale. Of course, not all riffs are created equal, and some songs like ‘Desolated Spirits’ or portions of the bonus track lag behind the bigger picture. However, these songs still have their moments and are truly only victims of their length, which admittedly amplifies sections’ mediocrity, causing you to want to skip to the next one. Like I said, go easy on listening to this one.
I will mention, going into the album, the first two tracks are where the bulk of my enjoyment come from. Later songs have that ethereal and thrilling charm at times, but the tracks ‘An Apparition’s Dirge’ and ‘Austere Perceptions’ don’t waste a second of my time. The solos blister, the riffs are as diverse as much as they are plentiful, the progressive elements aggrandize the awesome power of the metal and everyone plays on 11. The whole album is complemented by an excellent mix which brings out the best of the guitars, drums and bass. Each instrument is loud, proud and in your face with their distinctly 3D sound. The only aspect that comes off as incomplete are the vocals. The dual style, growling and scratchy vocals are fine enough, and don’t actively offend me, but don’t get me as pumped up as everything else. The music gets my head nodding and banging in unison with the songs, while the vocals remind me of white bread. The vocal performance itself is great, and adds intensity and credence to the death metal, but the actual voice is barely above stock. It’s not unique enough, I suppose is the shorthand issue I have with them. Not bad but could be better.
‘Obscure Reflections’ is an album that was astonishingly good. It takes a few listens to really let the riffs sink in and saturate your ears with how well wound and sewn together they are. Everybody on this record plays well of each other, culminating in a unique progressive death metal album that takes ample influence from each side of the respective genres. I recommend listening to two songs at a time to fully take in the album while giving yourself a break, because in one go? The album can be a bit too much at times. Though I suppose it’s better to be too much than too little, and Xenolith offers harmonic beauty in extreme spades. Though would it kill the band to make a new album?
Release date: May 23rd, 2020
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