Any haughty prog rock purists who have disdain for the metal influence in recent progressive music can just leave their baggage at the door. Or stop reading now, dealer’s choice. Xanthochroid’s “Blessed He With Boils” is the latest extreme progressive metal album to blow my mind, and I don’t give a damn who knows it!
“Ambularo per harena
juxta frigore salmacidus aqua
Vocant me deus
sed numquam ita sentitur
“Call me God, but I never felt so human.” Hells yes, I smell me some black metal! Give me a second while I go find my spiked bracers and corpse paint…. okay, we’re good. I’m not going to lie to you, I discovered this band through a random review on a metal site, and really only gave them the time of day because of their stated influences. Opeth. Wintersun. Emperor. They called their music “Epic Black Metal” and promised “sophisticated and enthralling compositions,” which could mean anything from black-metal-with-good-production-and-the-occasional-keyboard-part to a mixture of the genre with solid progressive elements. Xanthochroid is an unsigned, self-produced and self-recorded band out of California (which last I checked is several thousand miles from Norway), so I had no benchmark for what their music would sound like. I hoped for In Lingua Mortua, and braced myself for some unlistenable Darkthrone clone, or even this.
But I’ll be damned if Xanthochroid didn’t deliver on even my highest expectations. You see, I’m fascinated by bands with strong extreme metal influences that incorporate musical and percussive elements outside of the “metal” genres. Opeth has used jazz and classical guitar. I’ve heard interesting modal phrasing reminiscent of Steve Vai in Wintersun’s work. In Lingua Mortua and Ihsahn have each used saxophone on their recordings. I love each of these bands because they compose high-energy, extreme music, but manage to keep it interesting by adding unique elements that keep my attention piqued. Xanthochroid represents the newest member of their ranks.
And so, I spent a few listens of “Blessed He With Boils” just trying to find all of these little progressive, genre-bending nuggets. Several tracks contained some ethnic hand percussion, and one of these, “Deus Absconditus: Part I”, added some classical guitar with a distinct Spanish style. I heard big, layered chords that sounded right out Devin Townsend own twisted imagination, and bombastic metal riffs with the melody being led by a piano. My (currently) favorite track on the album, “Blessed He With Boils”, features a dynamic transition from Opeth’s playbook, with an interesting, well-composed acoustic section quickly giving way to a scathing and dissonant guitar riff.
Along the way, Xanthochroid tells a story of betrayal and power set in the fictional world of Etymos. They had already begun to explore unfold their story in their “Incultus” EP, but its still impressive just how much this debut feels like a seasoned concept album. The lyrics are intelligent and sometimes contemplative, all while retaining a small measure of the brutality common in extreme metal genres. And believe me, they know when to abandon harsh vocals to give their words the right feeling:
“We, disciples of the north
Bring this vile carcass forth.”
That line is presented with dark choral-style singing, and it makes for dramatic effect, kind of like when you hear Gregorian chants in some heaven vs. hell action flick. Certain motifs are slightly altered and repeated throughout. When I added the music to my media library the genre came in as “Cinematic Black Metal”, and that description is starting to grow on me. I’ve never heard an extreme metal group come closer to the variety, cohesion and intrigue of film score music as “Blessed He With Boils” exhibits.
As a final note, this album was recorded and mixed over the course of a year by drummer/percussionist Matthew Earl at what I can only assume is his home studio (Erthe and Axen Studios) because those names happen to be two of the continents in their fictional world. If this weren’t a self-recorded and self-mixed debut album it would still be a pinnacle of sound in the extreme metal scene, so suffice it to say that I was highly impressed by the presentation and production values. The album was mastered by Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios in Sweden, a man who, consequently, has worked on records from Opeth, The Devin Townsend Project, Ihsahn, and Katatonia.
I would recommend this album wholeheartedly to any progressive music fan, with the understanding that those with a predisposition against metal and/or harsh vocals might hate it without giving it a chance. Trust me: missing out on this album is your loss.