Review Summary: Wanna go “Down Under”?
For the last few years, music’s release quality has generally ‘warmed up’ in the dying days of February. There’s something that happens as the year’s first quarter closes that leads us to believe we’re in for yet another great year of music. Call it a hunch, but 2020’s momentum is [now] in full fuc
king swing. Hailing from the fire ravaged, and occasionally flooding Australia, Xenobiotic’s sophomore speaks volumes of the country’s resilience and overall commitment to self success. How that translates to Mordrake
specifically relates more to a larger than life effort, built from a foundation not limited by the confines of a single niche within a genre. The band’s application of brutal sounds are met with doses of technicality and genre hopping - sometimes within the same musical stanza. Xenobiotic’s Mordrake
is technically sound, largely balanced within its own need to follow more dynamic, thoughtful song processes. Mordrake
is not a perfect record, but the band’s larger than life sophomore is a gusto of fresh energy making the most of what acts like Shadow Of Intent (just for a loose reference) failed to build on.
Even as I loosley state just how these Aussies have capitalised on a scene left wanting by their peers, it’s the band’s tendency to avoid genre conformity that begins to push them ahead of the crowd. Put simply, Xenobiotic’s sophomore straddles the very edge of deathcore, by leaning closer to an undefined version of progressive death metal that lives off atmosphere and
brutality. “Insomnia” defines the band’s more atmospheric breakaway from the a-typical chug and growl fests that dominate the genre as discordant notes meet billowing bass lines and building tensions. From there the track is abrasively full on, taking hold of every ravaging death metal aesthetic. “Light That Burns The Sky” carries on in a similar vein taking the quick build in the foundation before it and adding dynamic shifts and mood shifting transitions. Despite the fact the listener has heard less than two of the album’s tracks, Mordrake
makes a powerful statement awash with stellar musicianship and particularly visceral death roars. Départe’s Sam Dishington’s inclusion during “Saphris’” offers clean contrast to TJ’s piercing shrieks and bellowing low end. TJ’s clear cut harshness cuts clear of the often oppressive selection of tremolo riffing, blast beats and high octane tempos which gives Xenobiotic’s 2020 piece the staying power to outlast those who venture within a similar sound pool.
Despite the immense power on display here there are a couple of niggling issues that prevent absolute modern death metal supremacy. Namely, the group’s tendency to stick to a brutal low end creates some brick-walling to the brilliance that would be “Dysphoria” or “Acedia”. Mordrake
lacks the breathing room to unload mountains of gnasty growls and deathly sickening shrieks. Most of these tracks are largely similar to the next and if not for the occasional featured artist, Xenobiotic’s sound would only be comparable to to a dying genre - rather than a select few up and coming artists. One particular track that pushes past this restriction is the sweltering “Fractured” which takes on a slightly slower, more groove based saunter in combination with TJ’s well-placed tone shifts.
The two-part title tracks are also of particular note. Quiet introductions grace the beginnings of technicality. Flurries of guitar notes marry some complementing double bass work, but nothing here overpowers the next joining feature. It’s a short stint, followed by the Kyle Anderson featured “Acquiesce” which dominates the album’s closing moments in deafening positivity. Xenobiotic’s newest effort is well-worth the hype of modern death metal fans. Despite the polarising gaps between the core and the death metal genre, Mordrake
is a prime example of sound innovation while sticking to music that fails to move forward with the times. For Xenobiotic’s sophomore, a fresh look on some done before soundscapes is all that was needed.