When most metal bands attempt to introduce non-metallic elements to their sound, the results are often disastrous. It took Fleshgod Apocalypse three albums to effectively blend classical refrains with blasting death metal while the introduction of opera to black metal that Arcturus ‘perfected’ is regarded by many as unforgiveable. However, sometimes the combining of disparate styles is a joy to behold, as Basingstoke bruisers Xerath once again prove with their emphatic blending of the rough with the smooth on third album III (Candlelight).
While it may be lazy to assert that all the quartet do is play groove metal with orchestral keyboards swirling away in the background, when it boils down to it, that’s not too far from the truth. What makes the band special, however, is just how good the songwriting is, as the infectiously twisty riffs of album opener ‘I Hold Dominion’ demonstrates. The keyboards that make up so much of the bands’ sound, and indeed, their identity aren’t just merely tacked on, they flow in time with the riffs and enable the arrangements to take on a more profound and grand aspect than one might expect. Catchy hooks like the soaring chorus to ‘I Hunt For The Weak’ don’t do any harm either.
New guitarist Conor McGouran has integrated seamlessly and his massive Meshuggah-esque riffs make the music seem urgent and alive, such as the stomping heaviness of ‘Autonomous’ and the staccato assault of ‘Passenger.’ Vocalist Richard Thomson may occasionally lapse into a Devin Townsend impersonation but it’s likely you’ll be enjoying proceedings too much to care. As with Xerath’s previous two albums, III feels like the soundtrack to an epic sci-fi film with stunning visuals and profound themes. While it’s just heavy metal at the end of the day, you can’t help but feel that the four members of the band are reaching for the stars, and one day they might just succeed.