Xanthochroid - Of Erthe and Axen: Act II 01I approached Xanthochroid’s Of Erthe and Axen: Act I with excitement and optimism the band could capitalize on the potential of their high quality 2012 debut, Blessed He With Boils. It represented the first chapter in an ambitious double album project, split into two separate releases, but with Xanthochroid’s intention for the two individual entities to form one cohesive whole. Act I didn’t necessarily feel half finished. Essentially, my main issue with Act I boiled down to balance and flow, as well as my belief that Xanthochroid’s strength lies in coalescing their different elements into a dynamic and energetic song-writing form, balancing hushed moments and folky turns with their proggy, symphonic brand of (slightly) blackened metal. The numerous softer moments and enchanting folk passages just didn’t hit me with the emotional resonance and mystical beauty I was hoping for. Nevertheless, the stronger moments from Act I are powerful examples of the band’s capabilities. So, here we go again with round two. Can Xanthochroid pull off this ambitious project with a worthier second act? Or is Of Erthe and Axen gearing for a spot on my “Biggest Disappointments o’ 2017” list?

Tied in with the band’s elaborate, fantasy story arc, Xanthochroid promised a heavier offering on Act II, and with this they deliver. Aside from a brief instrumental opener, along with the long and syrupy ballad “Walk With Me, O Winged Brother,” and the tedious, chanting vocal dominating follow-up “Through Caverns Old and Yawning,” Act II delivers a swifter, heavier and dynamic symphonic metal journey with loads of drama, complex orchestration, and increased aggression, riffs, raps, and blasts. “Reveal Your Shape, O Formless One” opens in a melodramatic, cinematic vein before segueing into the multi-faceted symphonic rush of “Of Aching, Empty Pain.” The over-the-top drama that marked Act I continues here and the results are patchy but intermittently gripping over its nearly nine-minute length. At its best, Act II reveals the immense musical and compositional talents at Xanthochroid’s disposal, such as the beauty vs beast majesty stamping “Of Strength and the Lust for Power.”

Act II‘s raised energy levels and heavier dynamism are welcome and most the songs feature multiple twists and shifts in tone. Divisive melodramatic cleans often intertwine with aggressive vocals, while pretty interludes and acoustic passages pop-up between the heavier shifts. “Through Chains That Drag Us Downward” wades through restrained but epic-sounding orchestral build-ups and melodies before unleashing deathly growls and an altogether more vibrant punch. A somewhat unnecessary momentum killer crops-up around the song’s midpoint, as fluttering flutes, jangling chains, and acoustic guitars intervene before the meatier section kicks in again. Elsewhere, the transitions between the mellow and bombastic heavy passages are more cohesive. “Of Gods Bereft of Grace” is a superb symphonic metal song and album highlight, captivating through its myriad of instrumental textures, versatile vocals, aggressive drumming, and Opethian acoustic break.

Xanthochroid - Of Erthe and Axen: Act II 02

As with Act I, this second movement struggles to maintain consistency and my engagement with the album wanes from time to time. Sometimes it feels as if Xanthochroid are cramming too many ideas and layers into the compositions and while overall Act II is a more fluent, lively and heavier affair, it’s also a bit overstuffed and Act I arguably feature the higher song-writing peaks. Unfortunately, sparks of inspiration and sporadic brilliance combined with a couple of start-to-finish great tunes doesn’t equate to a completely enthralling album. The majority of Act II’s songs feature strong points and engaging moments but are missing that extra ingredient and bite to tip them over the edge into the essential listening territory. However, the production is once again very good, continuing the lushness and sophistication of Act I, and the multitude of instruments and layering doesn’t lead to excess cluttering in the mix.

Xanthochroid have bravely taken the DIY route to launch this ambitious project, doing so in an inventive and classy manner. Everything, from the presentation, slick production, artwork and detailed fantasy story arc are handled with the utmost care and professionalism. Yet perhaps more than any other album/project I’ve reviewed during my tenure at Angry Metal Guy, Of Erthe and Axen Act I and II have left me deeply conflicted. I want to like it a lot more than I actually do, as I’ve held the band in high regard since the impressive Blessed He With Boils and there’s plenty of enjoyment across the two albums, but not enough to justify its joint length and transport the albums into elite territory. Despite my misgivings, I’m rooting for Xanthochroid’s success and I’m confident many listeners will garner greater satisfaction and enthusiasm than what I’ve managed with Of Erthe and Axen.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Released
Websites: xanthofficial.com | facebook.com/xanthochroidmetal
Releases Worldwide: October 17th, 2017

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  • Sophocles

    Great album, their development came as a sweet surprise. It is a crime that this is a self release, they should get a contract. Together with Naeramarth these are the best current releases that side of the ocean

    • TheWiseNoob

      They don’t want a contract. They wanted to stay independent.

      • Sophocles

        Boldy and risky move. Still they need distribution

  • lrn2swim

    Wrooooong!! 4.5, easy. Combining this with Act 1 might be AOTY for me (if it weren’t for The Source). I guess I’m a sucker for double albums.

    • TheWiseNoob

      Same. Angry Metal Guy’s reviewers have really disappointed me with their reviews of Xanthochroid’s new album.

      • El_Cuervo

        You’ve only popped up in these Xanthochroid reviews. It’s totally cool if you’re a big fan personally but I think both halves read entirely fairly on their own merits (both written by the same guy btw).

        • Eli Valcik

          Praise subjectivity

    • Agree. I feel the AMG website does tend to “miss” far too often on albums that are truly great. But, I’ll keep coming back because as much as it makes my balls ascend into my body and boil with anger, these dudes write pretty well.

      • Nukenado

        You might want to get the retracting balls condition checked out by a doctor.

      • lrn2swim

        Yep, for sure. This is by far my favorite music review site, both the writing and commenterrorists are fantastic.

  • WhitestWizzard

    Lelf

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    It is so easy to pick on that band picture that I’m not going to because I would feel guilt and remorse for doing so.

    • John Mosley

      Leaf them alone.

    • McBasstard

      I can see these guys having thanksgiving dinner with members of Deicide or something. “Glen can you pass the kale please?”. “Mmmgggh”

    • Thatguy

      On reflection and despite being very tempted, I will restrain myself too. But I will just say that, yes, the music seems to fit the picture.

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        I was going to ask you to run this through your world famous Band Photometer, but I thought you might decline on moral grounds being this too easy of a target.

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    “Guys…say cheese…..guys….the camera is over here…hello?!”

  • Wes Allen
    • McBasstard

      Brutal.

    • Eli Valcik

      No humiliating Photoshop required

    • Paingwin

      Hello darkness, my old friend…

  • DeathComesRipping

    That band photo hahaha

  • Nukenado

    From what I gather, this is going to be one of those “I know is flawed but can still enjoy” albums for me.
    Like Anaal Nathrakh and DragonForce, I’d probably listen to these songs one by one instead of from start to finish.

  • Mollusc

    I’m sure there was a folk-y band earlier this year that look like this lot.

  • Daaamn, is this Ihsahn shrieking in the embedded track?

    • Michael Saurette

      Of all the harsh vocalists you could imitate, later period Ihsahn is a strange one. And this is coming from a big Ihsahn fan!

  • TheWiseNoob

    “Walk With Me, O Winged Brother”

    RIP

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra
    • John Mosley

      Opeth’s Patterns in the Ivy playing in background…

  • Zadion

    I have the opposite opinion regarding Act I: the folk passages are by far the most mesmerizing and powerful moments of the album. “In Deep and Wooded Forests of My Youth” is easily among my favorite songs of the year, and “In Lost and Ancient Gardens” isn’t far behind. The deft blend of all the band’s present vocal styles is incredible and the emotion powerful. The duet, oh Lord, the duet!

    Of all the various folk metal bands that feel the need to drop acoustic albums at some point in their career (Elvenking, Borknagar, and Eluveitie pop up at the top of my head), none do I want to do so as much as Xanthochroid. They’re more talented at producing convincing acoustic folk than all of the above combined (although I am a fan of Borknagar’s Origin).

    … Conversely, the harsher moments, while solid and thoroughly enjoyable (for the most part), didn’t quite impress me as much as the work on Blessed He with Boils. I’m resultingly apprehensive about this act BECAUSE it’s supposed to be heavier… I hope to be pleasantly surprised.

  • tomasjacobi

    The Facebook blurb for this review makes it sound like this is Act II of “Blessed He With Boils” which obviously isn’t the case…
    And you’ve got Ali from the band complaining about it :-)

  • Planex

    Is it great album art week?

  • A Feed From Cloud Mountain

    So here we are at last. The score is frankly right where I’d put it.

    I feel like the production aspects are wonky, and it surprises me that this was an aspect being praised. Maybe I just have shit ears/headphones/amp/DAC, but sections of this album sound like they were recorded inside a Tupperware container, or at least they did after I listened to a bit of Zornheym, and it seems like a couple parts are so overloaded with different sounds that the vocals are fighting to stay ahead in the mix (Of Strength comes to mind). Also, I would have pegged this album at a solid DR5ish not 8, but maybe that, and the above complaints, are just my general ignorance of the engineering side of music leading me astray.

    I still prefer Blessed He over these two. Scratch these off the AotY contention for me; I’m putting my money on Urn at this point.

  • Tofu muncher

    This is one beautiful album. Period. Oh, Act I is, too.

  • CyberJesus

    I think both this review and the other are accurate. Some good ideas and very pretty sections, but the music is ostensibly emotional and lacks cohesion. Blessed He With Boils balanced the heavier and softer sections in a more compelling manner and remains their best work in my opinion.

  • I hear Ihsahn meets The Dear Hunter. Intriguing!

  • Barely 4.0 imo. Good review, glad you enjoyed it enough to give it a good score.

  • I’ll have to go back and check out Act I. The embedded track is good, not mind blowing, but enjoyable enough to lead me to want to here more.

    There are moments where it seems to me the singer is going for a Devin Townsend sound and I am not sure that that’s a good thing.

  • sir_c

    The album was recorded in a vegan studio I presume

  • Do you want Ents? Because that’s how you get Ents.

  • Bryan Stroup

    That’s a very “Dark Souls” cover.

    • Nukenado

      Dark Sould would be this and the Act. I album reversed, having the tortured human turn into a mass of lurching tentacles.

  • Dean Sternberg

    “We’d like to thank our families, Opeth and kale. And God. Or not. Up for interpretation. Peace out!”