How do you feel about keyboards? Do you like ’em gloomy and atmospheric? Synthy and cheesy? Perhaps the classic piano flavor does it for you. Whatever your tastes, X.Kernel have got you covered. Their debut Face the Truth follows eight long years of melodic rumination and, if the album art can be believed, enough Phoenix Wright to cause nightmares. Given my last encounter with a band brought to you by the letter “X,” I’m more cautious than normal, but maybe the truth will set X.Kernel free.

“Exhausted” makes clear from the start that the Ukrainians have more keys than a locksmith. Far heavier on the “melodic” than the “death,” they rely on heavy pseudo-gothic tones to mix Gothenburg influences old and new, ranging from In Flames to Arch Enemy to Soilwork. Face the Truth plops Alina Borodkina and her magical 88 front and center in a fashion reminiscent of Kalmah, though the Finns’ tones were never so ostentatious in their black-and-white delivery. On the string side, Nikita Larionov’s axe-work would make Jesper Strömblad proud. “Kingdom of Pain” keeps the In Flames riffing, but morphs the keys to a cleaner tone. A synth underbelly has a minor say, but the occasional pairing of heat and mourning exude whiffs of Before the Dawn. On its face, it’s an enticing offering for fans of the genre, if they can overcome the pervasive sense of familiarity.

The pre-sunrise feeling continues on “In the Void,” as Max Sklyar puts on a gothic voice that sounds like a just as cheesy but somewhat less terrible Oliver Bandmann (Aeternitas). His baritone deliveries on “In the Void,” “No Fate,” and “Dream of Sun” could be stronger, but their measured use bolsters otherwise generic growls. However mediocre, they represent a shot of character the band is sorely missing. The problem with Face the Truth – past the keyboard production – comes from how easily everything is lost in the shuffle. The keyboard melodies never land in the way necessary to anchor the album. “Exhausted” offers maybe the strongest key melody on the record; returns only diminish from there. Worse yet are the ones that would be catchy, at least relatively, but for their obnoxious tones. At their worst, the lukewarm direction and development of “Dying Gods” and “No Fate” leave me stifling a yawn. The guitars draws straight lines to bands I enjoy, but shine sparingly with the keyboards chauffeuring them constantly. The cleaner tone of “Kingdom of Pain” eases this pain a bit, but the respite is short-lived. At first, “Stay Alive” houses all the ferocity expected from a mid-album pace shift, but as the omnifuckingpresent keys bleed in, my enthusiasm slips away.

I can’t help but shake my head, because I should be eating this stuff up. “The Last War” proves that this formula can succeed under balanced implementation. X.Kernel still utilizes those noodly tones, but rather than gobbling up the entire track, they stand alongside the guitars. The song still forces a wince —Sklyar brings the cheese Borodkina left behind — but it’s a nice change of pace. Dual solos from Borodkina and Larionov take a neo-classical bent to cap a track I wish the rest of the album could have emulated. The keys are effective without being a massive affront to my ears. “The Last War” also sees drummer Dmitriy Kruglik finally thump his way through the busy production of an album where Oles Malezhik’s brief-but-regular bass fills somehow stand out more than the bloody percussion. While the production falters, at least Borodkina and Larionov have their heads in the right place. They want their melodeath to be catchy and memorable. I admire the attempt, but they succeed only on the latter and for the wrong reasons.

On paper, Face the Truth is primo Wvrm bait, but those insipid keytones do me in. Perhaps X.Kernel have it in them to right the ship. As my fiancee likes to say about every fixer-upper house I don’t want any part of, the band has good bones. The melodeath scene could definitely use another key-central band, especially given Kalmah‘s extended absence. With more polish and less infuriating production decisions, they could fill a wide-open niche. I just hope it doesn’t take another eight years to get to there.


Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Cimmerian Shade Recordings
Websites: xkernel.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/xkernelband
Releases Worldwide: April 4th, 2017

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  • Brutalist_Receptacle

    WTF

  • Is that cover taken from an AMG staff meeting? We said no pictures!

  • Brent Johnson

    I was thinking this could be like the most recent Wolfheart review where some plebe underscored it but when the keys hit, I actually laughed.

    • That Plebe was me and I stand by that score. That album was pretty pedestrian.

      • Brent Johnson

        Plebes gonna plebe. You’re usually so right on, i’ll let this one pass. =)

  • Felchmeister777

    Boring bastards. How can these talentless chimps even be bothered writing/playing this crap. Those riffs would have sounded cliche twenty years ago…

    • Drew Music

      Eh, cliche maybe, but not talentless. They may lack innovation to an extent – there really is no such thing as pure originality all in all, so that’s subjective anyway – but they clearly have at least enough talent to recreate the sounds and styles that inspire them to play in the first place, putting them leaps and bounds ahead of anyone who actually lacks talent altogether.

      • Felchmeister777

        Fair point, ‘talentless’ is too broad a word. They’re clearly technically proficient. But then standards in general are far higher these days compared to death metal in the 80’s/90’s anyway.

        Ironically, very few of these ‘copy ‘n paste’ bands can actually write a tune. If you’ve been into extreme metal for a long time, you have a brain & you’re well into adulthood, to me, it beggars belief that you could find tnis anything other than incredibly tiresome…

        Although, of course, ‘each to their own’ & all that bollocks…

        • Drew Music

          Don’t get me wrong, this shit bored me as well and I fully agree that anyone who’s heard this all before will probably feel the same way. Talentless just seems, as you say, too broad, not to mention typically and unfairly overused. They can clearly make music, just not necessarily anything particularly exciting.

          • Dr. Wvrm

            This line of thinking is exactly my line between 1.5 and 2.0. It’s not bad, per se, there’s definitely a level of aptitude and enough there that I don’t feel compelled to turn it off the way I do 1.5-. “Boring” would make a better descriptor for 2.0 than “disappointing” because that’s where all my truly boring albums end up.

          • Drew Music

            Boring is definitely more painful than bad. Bad can at least breed humor, but it’s so fucking frustrating when you know the artists are capable of crafting greatness and don’t. Not necessarily directing that at these guys, but that very much sums up my feelings on post Colony In Flames.
            You Swedish bastards gave us The Jester Race, God damn it, why the fuck are you fading in playgrounds???

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          Standards might be far higher these days yet there are few newer albums that can match the best records of the era. I mean, ask anyone for a list of Top Ten essential Death Metal records and at least half of them would be from the 90s.

          • Felchmeister777

            That’s it, too few bands are striving to do something unique.

            Music is an expression of soul and character. So what does it say about these musicians who can’t write an original riff to save their lives..(?) What kind of musician doesn’t strive to push boundaries & make a unique mark on the world..(?)

            More often than not these days it’s just style over substance. Flashy stop/start shit, overly technical, characterless drumming, endless fretboard masturbation & tired, predictable structures. Barely a handful of memorable moments across your average forty-odd minute album.

            Standards have risen technically, yet ironically the heart and creativeness of the scene really is in dire straits. Thank god there are always a handful of exceptions across the sub genres of course. Still, pretty depressing state of affairs…

  • Hammersmith

    Poor man’s Kalmah. Gonna throw on Swamplord instead.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Wasn’t Kalmah a poor man’s Children Of Bodom?

      • Dr. Wvrm

        I always thought they were an equally rich man’s Eternal Tears of Sorrow.

        • Drew Music

          I’m with the good (bad?) Dr. on this. Their noodly moments could wander to CoB territory at times I suppose, but the overall vibe of a Kalmah album is definitely closer to that of an EToS album than anything by CoB since Follow the Reaper.
          Unrelated, but whilst I have yon homies’s attentions: stop what you’re doing and treat thyselves to Woe’s Hope Attrition. It’s like all the best moments of all the black metals on one album, just non-stop blackened perfection.

      • Hammersmith

        Hmm, were they? Maybe you are thinking of Norther?

        They borrowed from CoB sometimes perhaps, but they didn’t feel like a clone band. And I would argue that their discography is far more consistent than CoB’s. Although their last one didn’t do anything for me.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          Well, I was not thinking of Norther, in fact I hadn’t thought of Norther for a long time… Guess Norther were an even poorer man’s Children Of Bodom?
          But their “Mirror Of Madness” song was OK, gotta go listen to it.

          • Hammersmith

            Indeed, the poorest.

      • Muinaiset

        Kalmah has had a much better discography overall. Only mediocre one in my opinion is their most recent.

  • Christopher

    This sounds like a bad local band that can’t get past being the opening act at a dice bar. Review and score were both far too generous.

    • What’s a dice bar?

      • Christopher

        Caught me before the edit, you sly bastard.

  • rumour_control

    Was X.Sarge taken?

  • Wilhelm

    The production could be better, but the music and vocals are very good.

  • welyyt

    Man, those keyboards are annoying.

  • Eli Valcik

    xXKernelXx

  • Ivan E. Rection

    Is that dude striking a Wolverine pose? Don’t. Just don’t.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Can’t beat the Abraham Lincoln’s beard – Wolverine pose combo.

  • Nexus

    I certainly don’t mind cheesy keyboards (if you couldn’t tell from my profile picture) but this is pretty mediocre

  • Thatguy

    Oh no! The key change in the embedded song! The tacky keys. Dippty-dippty chug.

    Thank you for reviewing this and allowing me to bring out my inner miserable bastard.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Isn’t your inner miserable bastard ALWAYS out?

      • Thatguy

        It doesn’t take much.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    I’d bet the keyboardist’s dad paid for the recording, mixing and production…

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    This actually sounds like some keyboard nerd took a Metal record and then mixed his own playing over it. There’s a feeling of disconnection between the Metal and the keyboards.

  • madhare

    Metal album covers often feature various horrors: war, slaughter, death, corpses… and VR goggles? The baddest of them all.