Review Summary: Mike Patton does goregrind.
I love trash music. I say that up front because I need to explain how I landed upon this album. I've followed Xavleg (you can look up the full name, it's gigantic and hilarious) for a little while now simply because of the sheer novelty of the name. Their first EP, appropriately titled simply Gore, made me think of calling them "memegrind." It was basically like if Party Cannon were aiming to straight-up parody slam/goregrind instead of being cheeky about it. Whereas Party Cannon is obviously taking the piss, Xavleg went so over the top with the gigantic name and br00tz album cover that you didn't know if they were serious or not. A song called "Dicks Out for Harambe" didn't help.
Gore was pretty good, though. Damn good, in fact. Those four tracks showed that these South Africans had more going on under the hood than most, which is good because another absurdly long named band, 55gore, is absolute trash and trying to survive on novelty alone. But here comes Gore 2.0, going from 4 tracks to 18 if you're on Spotify and 23 from Bandcamp (the BC version just sprinkles the original EP and single "Invoke the Smoke" among the rest), so now we find out if Xavleg has what it takes to be considered a real band.
So, I know that score seems ridiculous for a band like this, but I'm serious.
Compositionally, this album is just all over the goddamn map. In fact, the whiplash dizziness I got from it is part of why I felt compelled to do this review. I'm not kidding, I needed to take notes as I listened the second time to make sure I could keep track of everything going on. This is normally where I'd say something like, "Xavleg are varied, but don't be expecting a bunch of stuff like rockabilly, blues, crunk, or surf rock on here," except every single one of those happens AND it stays coherently in the album.
Things start off pretty straightforward enough, with a self-titled track that is just some good ol' fashioned straightforward brutal death metal. Nothing fancy here, but it's done well enough to let you know that these guys are skilled and aren't using their name to mask a lack of talent. From there, things start getting bizarre. Halfway through the second track, Space Cowboys, there's a riff that has an unmistakable rockabilly twang, or like someone was recording for Mr Bungle and it accidentally landed in the mix. Later on in the album, Surfs Up Goths just straight-up uses the riff from Wipe Out while still delivering the brutality. Veil of Moonlight starts off sounding almost like Stairway to Heaven, but somehow when the chaos crashes in, the structure of the song stays true to the build of that riff. Then at the midpoint there's a section that sounds straight out of Cradle of Filth's playbook.
That's an important distinction here. This is controlled chaos, not using a scattershot approach in order to give themselves an excuse to avoid writing actual songs. Somehow, these are all memorable. I took notes just to remember song titles, but there are dozens of earworms and catchy moments, every track manages to be just as killer as you'd hope from the style and all of the insane additions feel less like "I dunno, let's throw this sh*t in" and more like "now is where we add this part." Every single off-kilter element only belongs in the song its in, you can't cut and paste them around without genuinely disrupting each track, and that's a remarkable feat.
From there it's more and more curveballs. Plague of the Ant-Binders has a groove at its start that's so damn catchy I was almost disappointed when the actual metal kicked in. Then we get into the crunk I'd mentioned earlier. That one managed to make me think the album had ended and Spotify started running a radio mix, but no. The first 30 seconds are deadass an 808s and synths beat with rapping behind it, and then pow you got goregrind in your face. The rapping comes back, metal again, and then a Hot Topic metalcore section. The album ends with the spacey, ethereal Consume the Cosmos and then we're done.
All of this would be irrelevant, of course, if it wasn't executed well, and Xavleg has some incredible talent among their ranks. The vocalist shifts from hardcore barks and black metal rasps to gutturals and pig squeals effortlessly, guitar riffs wander and sway from style to style and remain strong in each one, the bassist is an actual goddamn member of the band who can slap and pluck his way in and out of whatever's going (even taking centerstage frequently), and that drummer can lay down a swingin' groove just as easily as he can blast your balls off. All the while the production is thick, meaty, and heavy as all hell. I know I focused on the oddities here, but trust me that the bricks that form the majority of this wall of death are as crushing as they come.
Gore 2.0 is, to put it mildly, exhausting. There is so much happening that it's impossible to disengage and just let it play in the background. I listened to this album three times in sequence. First with no expectations to review, whereupon I kept pausing what I was doing to look over and double check what I was hearing. Second while I lifted to give it the ol' "does it still supply the br00tz" test. Finally, a third time, sitting here going through and carefully reviewing. If the album hadn't commanded my attention at the first hurdle I would have just enjoyed it and moved on, but it couldn't sit in the background. It refused. However, it never actually broke the gore/slam mood, and blasting out front squats and deadlifts was easy (well, not EASY). Then, listening critically, I found even more to love.
When I started this review, I gave it a 4.5 because giving a band like this a 5.0 just struck me as asinine. A 5.0 needs to be a game-changer, something that can be revisited five or ten years later, and... I really think this is an album like that. For the comically overdone name to the silly song titles, Xavleg have put together such a bizarre concoction that I honestly and truly think it's a must-listen for any fans of extremity. It really is Mike Patton does goregrind. Aside from general complaints about the style itself (not liking pig squeals or triggered drums, for example), I could not think of a single complaint.