Recently a new rule was established in the AMG offices: no more claiming promos more than a month out. Giving everyone equal opportunity makes for more entertaining gladiatorial combat in the Skull Pit, you see. But now it’s become a game for the clever, so I decided to scout the waters ahead in case I needed to be ready to pounce. When I came across a promo by Australian prog-tech-deathcore outfit Xenobiotic, stared at the gorgeous Lewandowski cover and listened to its advance track, I actually set an alarm for the day I could lay claim to it, before Kronos or Ferrous could get their claws into my precious. Because if the rest of Mordrake was as good as the single I sampled, I knew we were dealing with potential Album of the Year material.
It is, and we are! Mordrake is an absolute beast of an album, managing to hit unexpected emotional depth, musical intellect and complexity, and face-melting brutality all at the same time. TJ Sinclair takes the lead with his excellent mixture of growls and shrieks, often switching from one to the other mid-sentence, and devastating in his effectiveness. Nish Raghavan and Cam Moore lay down a patchwork of utterly vaporizing riffs and blistering solos, assisted by Mikey Godwin on the skins and David Finlay on the bass. The bass has less of a melodic, more of a thundering and crushing ground layer application, while the drums are tight and technical, perfectly balancing groove and intricacy. The result reminds of Shadow of Intent, but without the symphonic elements, instead relying on dynamic songwriting that constantly writhes and changes.
The genius of Mordrake is less in groundbreaking innovation and more in perfect balance and curation of its strongest points. It has the flow and emotional hooks of progressive death metal, anchoring its concept of a destructive relationship. It has the instrumental intensity and complexity of technical death metal, particularly in the insane drumming. And finally, the deathcore textural base, with its potent mixture of bludgeoning and laceration, supplies the force to grind your skull to meal. The balancing between these elements is superb and Xenobiotic prove themselves masters at adjusting the dosage for maximum dynamics and impact.
Even beyond the foundation-laying excellence of Mordrake‘s songwriting, peaks of brilliance dot the running time. “Light That Burns The Sky,” with its fantastic, dynamic transitions, was the single I initially sampled and it remains an utter beast of a track, adding swirling tremolo leads and a powerful post-metal section to its writhing deathcore. “Acedia” ends on a breakdown that starts off devastating and becomes something worse when it slows down, creating a feeling of headbanging through tar while your spine liquefies. “Fractured” centers around a genius off-rhythm riff akin to missing a step going down the stairs. But the peak and Song of the Year contender is single “Saphris,” which combines brutality with beautiful, fragile atmosphere, and includes a heartrending clean vocal guest spot from Départe vocalist Sam Dishington.
There are no real flaws on the album, aside from an awkwardly placed soundclip or two; just one or two ‘could have been better’s. A bit more breathing room in the production would not have gone amiss, and a couple of tracks, including the opener and closer, are just ‘great,’ not ‘holy shit amazing.’ But these are barely more than footnotes on the whole. Mordrake is nigh perfection in its destructive flow, the perfect unity of heart, brains and brawn. It is as balanced as the finest sword, yet pummels like a sledgehammer machine gun. It leaves you bruised and gasping and ready for more. Xenobiotic‘s sophomore release is the record to beat for the remainder of 2020.