Xael – Bloodtide Rising (2021) – Review

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There is such a thing as the sophomore cliff for record releases. A blackened metallic rock that any new band somehow must navigate around with their second full-length record. Because failing that, they may not reach those stellar future hunting grounds that will make them stinking rich1). Yet sadly, many a band inexplicably shipwrecks on those accursed submerged reefs.

The RMR crew followed Xael around pretty much since its inception. But somehow the band never quite made it to a full review. Their debut full-length record The Last Arbiter only netted them a short article. A write-up that contrite RMR had to take out of circulation in the meantime, it was such an embarrassing mess.

In short, we weren’t necessarily enthused by Xael‘s first piece plagued by bad ideas and even worse production. A fact that surprised us back in time, given the musical prowess that was more than apparent in this band.

So in this light, how will Bloodtide Rising fare? A pristine example of great navigation, or will it be defeated by the dreaded compass to nowhere?

Well, the shamanesque airs and earthy percussion of the first track Suun Rai Aru already got on our good side. The conspiratorial wing that dwells in odd corners of our vast office suite probably thought that this eastern drone was used to pacify those virulent RMR reviewers over here. And perhaps so. But in truth, we were ready for the onslaught. Fully suited up, armor and weapons ready, and shields aligned.

But right off the bat, you can’t but admire the improvement in arrangement and quality. And maybe it helps to ditch the former pet denomination called Sci-Fi Metal, whatever this may mean. Instead, Xael now hit the road in a sturdy Symphonic Death Metal robe. Somewhat of a mix that sails midway between Exanimis and Fleshgod Apocalypse with a penchant towards tech death and errands into Post Metal.

And that’s interesting. Xael here are part of a bunch of outfits that started to compete with our Italian friends from FA. And no, this is no copycat, far from it. But they’re undeniably in those same waters, which again should provide that much-needed boost to better quality and – yes – creativity in this genre. Lest it grow stale suddenly, y’know.

Interestingly, 2020 appeared to be the year of the long knives over at Xael. Bloodtide Rising now sports a much different lineup. With the remaining members Sorgiem2) and Nassaru3) still in place, the year has seen the arrival of Chris Hathcock whom we know from his work with The Reticent. Then the band also took Brad Parris on board, also known as the bassman and vocalist of Nile. And then – last but not least – Xael hired one Joshua Niemeyer for lead vocal and cello duty.4)

Yet again, all new-found and improved quality notwithstanding, the mix still is way too rough-hewn to be comfortable. It’s as if they wanted to throw in each and every element they could think of. And this ended with some sort of a golem, roughly stitched together but not all magic spells cast yet to work it smoothly. One that has the strange smell of Nile all over it to boot. Somewhat unsurprisingly though, as both Parris and Ward (aka Nassaru) are heavily influenced by that particular universe. Just sayin’.

So, after the initial three pretty strong tracks, Bloodtide Rising starts to lumber kinda aimlessly about the soundscape. I got pretty annoyed when Srai appeared for the third time on one of their records. The song first surfaced on their singles collection of 2017 and then reemerged on The Last Arbiter. That was fair enough because it meant an upgrade from a demo version to a more refined one. Now, to push this same track a third time is like eating broccoli five days in a row. Never a good idea, and I started to wonder where they’re going with the songsmithing, as in new material.

Now, the mix pushes the drums and the usually excellent guitar work so much to the forefront that other elements start to disappear. The growls – for instance – work pretty well still. Yet, Hathcock‘s clears often lose themselves somewhere backstage. And that’s a pity for tracks like Dark World Mirrors for instance. That one sports a delicate variety of symphonics, harsh elements, female ethereal wailings, and the aforementioned clears. Now, mixing and mastering such a thing is darn difficult. But maybe they should have gone easy on them compressors some.

And it’s almost ironic. The last two tracks – The Red Odyssey Part two -Temple of the Sky Eater and The Odium and the Contrition – suddenly kick it up a notch. Tasty percussion from the jungles of death and overheated drums meet otherworldly riffs that made us sit up straight. Symphonic interludes galore, clears that in no way sound cheesy, and all vocals right at the forefront where they belong. Both tracks are again prone to imperfections, but we should have had more of that. Two tracks that make me want to go see this band live. There you go.

So, Bloodtide Rising ultimately broke the curse. Xael‘s sophomore album is a giant step up from its former self. Yet at the same time, the record’s a mixed bag with so many imperfections, it almost drove this reviewer to despair. But then, nothing is ever flawless, right? And if this band can tighten the songwriting and channel their urges to overload the arrangement with too much stuff, we’ll be in for a treat next time. Because there’s a ton of talent amassed in this band, it just needs to come out better.

Record Rating: 6/10 | Label: Pavement Entertainment  | Web: Facebook
Release Date: 21 February 2021


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