Xanthochroid - Of Erthe and Axen: Act I 01California’s Xanthochroid doesn’t do things in half measures. The ambitious young band impressed with their accomplished debut LP, Blessed He With Boils in 2012, creating a detailed fantasy world and narrative to complement their self-described “cinematic black metal.” Despite some flaws, it was an exciting debut, blending grand film score orchestration with progressive, folk, and blackened elements, while boasting a solid metallic kick. Finally, Xanthochroid return with a detailed prequel narrative to the storytelling events of the debut, split into two albums to be released in 2017, beginning with Of Erthe and Axen: Act I. Do they have what it takes to craft a prequel story with the musical output to match their ambition? Or is Act I destined to become the metal equivalent of The Phantom Menace? I can imagine Xanthochroid’s interesting vision landing them lots of support and critics alike, in a similar fashion to other divisive and theatrical modern outfits, Wintersun and Ne Obliviscaris.

From the graceful early notes through to the album’s gripping finale, it is abundantly clear Of Erthe and Axen: Act I is a strong labor of love for its creators, befitting of the band’s complex and ultra nerdy fantasy narrative. Featuring strong production values, lush instrumentation, gorgeous orchestral embellishments, and striking vocal harmonizing, the album is carefully crafted. And whether you become invested in the band’s rich fantasy storytelling or not, Xanthochroid nail the mysterious and otherworldly atmosphere of their enchanting fantasy tale confidently, from both musical and lyrical standpoints. However, it’s important to note that Act I represents a shift away from the band’s overt metal tendencies, with a stronger emphasis geared towards the progressive and folky elements of their sound. The melodic black metal attributes that previously framed their music are diminished, with the few and far between heavier moments entrenched in symphonic prog metal bombast, an aspect that will turn off some listeners. Although the execution is quite good, I feel the band has shifted slightly away from their strength of combining the progressive, folky, and symphonic elements into a more forceful and dynamic metal package.

Following a dramatic, film score-esque opening sequence, “To Lost and Ancient Gardens” brings forth the first extended taste of the band’s delicate, acoustic-based folk. Beautiful, and a touch cheesy, the song features pretty harmonizing and the first of several impressive contributions from female vocalist Ali Meador. Mental images of picturesque forests in unknown fantasy lands are conjured up on similarly adorned and peaceful offerings, “In Deep and Wooded Forests of My Youth,” through to the urgent dramatic swell of “The Sound of a Glinting Blade.” The mystical songs are driven by intricate and emotive male/female vocal harmonies and carefully decorated with flute, acoustic guitars, and keys. However, the melodramatic vocals and fanciful nature of the softer songs may prove too much to swallow for some. And while I enjoyed aspects of the folksy fantasy ballads, the pacing is a problem and I occasionally found myself on edge waiting for the band to explode.

Xanthochroid - Of Erthe and Axen: Act I 02

Fortunately, when the heavy material arrives it generally succeeds in its sweeping majesty and symphonic glory. “To Higher Climes Where Few Might Stand” deftly balances gradual dramatic builds with sweeping melodies, multi-faceted clean and rasped vocals, and aggressive turns, maintaining cohesion throughout a twisting structure. The grand orchestral scale in which Xanthochroid operates sacrifices a meatier, riff-based mindset, but rarely feels gimmicky, retaining a pleasing level of uncluttered detail and authenticity, accentuated by the lush and dynamic production. And the guitar work still shines, especially the superb blues-tinged leads and melancholic prog garnishing “To Souls Distant and Dreaming.” Meanwhile the lavish symphonic metal and epic hooks on “The Sound of Hunger Rises” represents a strong mix of the band’s melodic and livelier metal urges, but a toothier guitar attack would have helped hammer home the otherwise impressive impact of the album’s heaviest track, closing epic “The Sound Which Has No Name.”

Xanthochroid’s long-awaited return ranked highly on my most anticipated albums list of 2017. And though I’ll save full judgment for Act II to follow, Act I represents a mostly positive, if uneven beginning, to the double album venture. The sophisticated production, imaginative storytelling, and excellent musicianship are slightly marred by pacing problems, a lack of metallic thrust, and a divisive helping of fantastical cheese. Nerdy, theatrical, and ambitious to a fault, Of Erthe and Axen: Act I is a consistently good, intermittently gripping, and occasionally frustrating listening experience. However, I eagerly await Act II to hear if the band manage to glue this ambitious project successfully into a joint package.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Released
Websites: xanthofficial.com | facebook.com/xanthochroidmetal
Releases Worldwide: August 22nd, 2017

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  • Malhorne

    It is funny how you made me hyped and disappointed alternately during the whole review

    • Luke_22

      Sorry about that. It was a conflicting listen.

      • Malhorne

        Ahah I understand!
        Great review nonetheless :)

  • Sharp-Blunt Boy

    Tubular bells and lounge music melded to exquisite effect. I like the embedded track a lot.

    And, what an earnest video. They all seem so bloody delightfully earnest. I’m sold.

    • Mattias Niklasson

      They are very earnest! Source: Me liking their facebook-page and seeing their earnest posts.

      • tomasjacobi

        Well, if you check their Wikipedia page under “Fake bands and other gags” you’ll see that they also possess a great sense of humour.

  • David D.

    This gives me some Verisäkeet vibes, particularly Kaiku.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    The yin-yang-like cover art is quite beautiful.

  • Zadion

    Oh my fucking goodness that embedded song is INCREDIBLE! If the entire album is this quality, it’ll trump their already majestic debut!

    Even the video is beautiful!

  • André Snyde Lopes

    I’m constantly rooting for these guys. Their cover of Wintersun’s Land of Snow and Sorrow is fantastic and one of the best covers in history.

    Btw, I know it’s It’s not metal in the least but are you going to review Steven Wilson’s latest?

    • wayne the devil

      I will let this be….this time.

    • El_Cuervo

      My review is slowly en route. I had it dropped into my lap at short notice but have a busy week!

      • tomasjacobi

        “After two great albums, Steven Wilson releases a new album that’s merely good. 3/5”

        There, I wrote it for you :-)

        • Serjien

          Bravo!

      • Ha! If I remember correctly, Steely D wrote that this review is “very unlikely”, so I’m pleseantly surprised that you plan to post it.
        While “To the Bone” isn’t soul-tearing like Raven or HCE, it contains IMO some of the best tunes Wilson ever wrote (namely Pariah and Refuge) and it’s generally very successful. This man is simply incapable of writing anything below 4.0.

      • jabba

        AMG himself isn’t handling the SW review? I am seriously surprised but eagerly await your review…

  • Wow was that dorky.

  • Dr. Wvrm

    This is like Wilderun but without the metal bits. I like it, but not nearly as much as I want to.

    • Yolo Swaggins

      Hmm…now that you name dropped Wilderun I might have to give the embedded track a listen.

  • Felchmeister777

    When the hell are we going to see another Bal Sagoth..(?!) All these ‘cinematic’ bands seem to be mediocre at best…

  • TheWiseNoob

    I can’t take your review seriously knowing you listened to such a heavily layered album using a 192kbps mp3 rip.

    • Diego Molero

      You can probabbly blame the band for that.

      • TheWiseNoob

        I figured it was the copy he got from the label. Still doesn’t mean I can take his review seriously. Especially when he praises the album and then two of his three main complaints are not enough metal and too cheesy for him. It’s also unfair to criticize an album for pacing issues when all we have is the first half.

        • It’s the opinion of the reviewer who spent considerable time with the album. If you don’t want to put stock in it, that’s your choice.

        • tomasjacobi

          As you have just pointed out, his complaints about the album are not about the production or audio quality (on the contrary the production is praised), so the bitrate of the mp3 is irrelevant to this review.
          Regarding your last point, it’s the band’s decision to split the album into two separate releases so IMO it’s fair game to review it as a single album. If it doesn’t work as a single album they shouldn’t have released it as such.
          (For what it’s worth I really like the album and would rate it around 4/5, but I still find this review very fair and well written.)

        • Luke_22

          My main issue in the end, is I believe the balance and flow doesn’t quite gel across the album. The folky parts are perfectly fine but I think the band can pull together different elements well in a more energetic and dynamic form. The best songs here showcase that. I also have broad tastes outside of metal, so the lack of metal elements on the album is more in context with how I feel the band execute best.

    • We reviewed the promo the label sent us. Same as every other website does.

      • Diego Molero

        Except that this time is self-released, so it’s just the band’s fault, which is even more idiotic.

    • IBlackened

      I don’t see how that would make any difference, since he said nothing about the sound’s quality.

  • Planex

    The dude on flute is without a doubt the famous “lelf”. Google image search if you don’t know.

  • sir_c

    Wow, a flute *and* an accordion in one video clip. They really are pushing their luck, aren’t they.Their rigid poses in the clip also feel a bit awkward to watch. Anyways, the music, I can’t call it bad, but it’s not for me.

    • madhare

      Yeah I thought the same about the video. Felt pretentious.

  • Planex

    The embedded track didn’t even have an electric guitar. I hope that’s not too representative of the whole album, although I am a sucker for this stuff, so I will be checking it out.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      The Rules of Metal:
      Number 1: No guitar, no Metal

    • tomasjacobi

      Half the songs (4 out of 8) have significant metal parts.

  • Tom Swinnen

    Sounds beautiful. I really like it.

  • A Feed From Cloud Mountain

    Well, after falling in love with Blessed He With Boils and watching the progress of this album from the beginning of the year, I have to say I’m fairly disappointed by Act 1. Whatever their excuses were for splitting up the releases, I really hope that Act 2 brings both the heaviness and the completeness I feel is missing from Act 1.

    If not, well, the album of the year comes out October 27th regardless of how good Act 2 is anyway.

    • Luke_22

      I’m still really looking forward to Act 2, as the stronger songs here are really good to great. Though I’m sure the band wouldn’t appreciate fucking with their intended art, it could be a case of pulling the best songs from each into one killer comp. However, I’m hoping Act 2 stands strong on its own.

      • A Feed From Cloud Mountain

        I’m kinda hoping it’s that or a new take on the Damnation/Deliverance theme. From everything I’ve seen, Act 2 seems to have the majority of the epic and traditional Xantho style proggy black metal songs.

        If that turns out to be the case, brilliant, I’m all aboard.

    • tomasjacobi

      I think Act 1 is a much stronger and more coherent record than Blessed He…
      I’m worried that Act 2 wont be able to keep up with the quality of the first act.

      • A Feed From Cloud Mountain

        I mean maybe I just need more listens (it’s happened before), but at this point I’d just rather wait for A2 and listen to both as a whole and pretend like I got the entire experience at once. This act just felt very neutered I suppose. It doesn’t help that I also don’t particularly like the drum tone or mix either.

        Guess we’ll find out in October¯_(ツ)_/¯

  • As an accompaniment for ending credits in a Disney movie, this could actually work.

  • Lithophyte

    Thanks so much for the link to Xanthochroid – loving all of their old stuff on bandcamp. The voices on the embedded track here are a little tenuous in parts, but then they sing with power, hitting great blended harmony. Nothing that a little experience won’t fix. Would love to see these guys and NeO on the same bill.

  • madhare

    I don’t mind listening to non-metal soft stuff. But I can’t stand this. (Based on the embedded track.) To my ears it has too much Broadway musical influence especially in the singing. For me, that kills all the possible “authenticity” of the folk elements and results just in a cringeworthy pretentiousness.

    • lrn2swim

      Check out the 3rd track ‘To Higher Climes Where Few Might Stand” One of the best songs of the year imo.

  • El Lado Oscuro

    boring record, their first one was amazing… sad