Xanthochroid – Of Erthe and Axen Act I & II (Erthe and Axen Records)Thursday, 12th October 2017
While we at DR already gave a proper review to Act I, we felt it in the best interest of the music to go back and listen to them as one complete experience, as intended by the band. That being said, we will focus on some more specifics with Act II than Act I below (hence its image is shown instead of that of Act I).
It’s easy to note the risks in writing a two-act album in today’s music market. Even with the onset of double and triple albums becoming more common, for an independent act to release a 2-part album in a span of two months is nothing less than bold. But to claim Xanthochroid as your typical metal act is certainly not the case either. For those seeking more than just your standard, by the books metal album, you won’t find much better than Of Erthe and Axen.
To briefly sum up Act I (full review HERE), it is not the most metallic onslaught you will hear, but it does a fantastic job of introducing the listener to the story and characters, as well as craft an experience that is truly cinematic in scope. By not limiting themselves to simply ‘metal,’ they give the music the depth that it deserves, and it’s hard not to listen to it and become engrossed in the narrative. It truly sounds like the beginning of a tale, and not simply a piece of music (not that there’s anything wrong with that of course). There are few openly metallic cuts, but ends on its most glorious number with “The Sound Which Has No Name” – a swamp battle that concludes with the death of one of the main characters (we’ll keep this spoiler-free).
This sets the stage for Act II, which acts as pure payoff for the stage-setting in Act I. After a somber dirge for the character above, the music jumps into a more gradually metallic stance. But don’t expect that just because they held off on the heavier end that you are going to get a blistering assault for an entire album. Instead, while songs like “Of Aching, Empty Pain” crank the volume, they do so with dynamics. The composition allows them to infuse piano, wind instruments, and gorgeous clean vocals into the mix to give the heavier moments more grandeur and scope. The next two tracks, “Of Gods Bereft of Grace” and “Of Strength and the Lust for Power” carry some major story points, and their blend of well-orchestrated black-ish riffs with double-bass hammering with choirs building tension and releasing it effectively with more melodic moments.
Things slow down a bit more as the mid-point of “Walk With Me, O Winged Mother” brings it back to a gentle duet before escalating back up to blastbeats and bombastic synths. After some more somber choir action on “Through Caverns Old and Yawning” the stage is finally set to conclude the album with power and grace. The album hits some of its darkest and heaviest moments on “Through Chains that Drag Us Downward,” which brings forth the suitably epic finale that is “Toward Truth and Reconciliation.” A nearly 12-minute song with a plethora of tempos, instrumentation, and emotion as it builds to a climax that masterfully sets things up for the story/music of Blessed He With Boils.
In this day and age, it’s a rare thing to find the time to sit down and truly absorb a double album that spans over 90 minutes in one sitting. However, doing so with Of Erthe and Axen yields some mighty rewards. Whether or not one takes the time to engage into the lyrics and mythos of the story (which is highly recommended), it’s easy to get lost in the journey. As already mentioned, the album feels like an experience and isn’t meant to be background music. There’s more depth here than most Hollywood blockbuster films, and while some may find the approach to be a bit “nerdy,” everything from the lyrics to the songwriting exudes the amount of passion necessary to effectively execute something like this. It’s easy to envision this being converted into a grim and fantastical Broadway musical, strange as it may sound. But it speaks to the essence of the album – one that merges the dreamy with the nightmarish, the bombastic with the somber, and one not afraid to transcend metal boundaries to deliver an uncompromising vision.