Xael
Bloodtide Rising

“Impressive…most impressive.” These words from the dark Sith lord himself, Darth Vader, are what rang through my mind upon my initial experience with Bloodtide Rising, the sophomore full-length album from North Carolina’s Xael…okay, I’m full of shit. What I really thought was, “Fuck me, this is some kick ass shit!” And it is. I mean if you’re here reading this review then I have to obviously assume that you’re a metal fan, and probably open to more than just one band, style, or genre.

With that being said, I honestly don’t see how any fan of extreme metal, mainly death metal, would not be a fan of Bloodtide Rising. If you need a comparison sound or a good “recommended for fans of” tagline, well, lets just say Bloodtide Rising could be re-dubbed Formulas Fatal to Nephren-Ka, or maybe Gateways to Their Darkened Shrines. I don’t mean that sarcastically or callously either. In fact, I say that as an honor badge of high regard as those albums I referenced and mashed up are some of the finest examples of innovative and creatively brutal death metal that you’re going to find.

While at their core Xael does in fact bring a fusion of Morbid Angel and Nile, the band also possesses a stellar vibe the like of Nader Sadek, Behemoth, SepticFlesh, and even Enslaved and Borknagar. Sounds pretty righteous, no? Out of nine tracks on Bloodtide Rising two are instrumentals, and damn fines ones at that, leaving seven full on proper ragers of epic and dynamic proportions. You could literally close your eyes and point to any one of  these songs and call it an album highlight. A perfect combination of of semi-technical death metal and fat catchy riffs/grooves, replete with some spectacular guitar leads/solos. It’s definitely got the air of a thinking man’s metal, but no unecessary or overt flash, and definitely not in that Gorguts/Obscura way where we’re still trying to figure out WTF is going on twenty-plus years later.

This isn’t simplistic riffery and rhythm I’m talking about either. You know, that S.F.U. kind where you’e bored and lose interest before the album is even finished. No, Bloodtide Rising is brutalizing and mesmerizing, decapitating and contemplating, and undoubtedly will leave you clamoring for more. It’s interesting and engaging, yet instantly appealing and absorbable. That’s a damn hard trait to achieve for a metal band in the 21st century. Utilizing tribal rhythms and beats along with subtle yet driving and moving piano/synths, clean vocals, chants, cello, and more is not necessarily a novel concept in metal nowadays, but this kind of songwriting success is hardly the norm for the thousands of metal acts out there.

Take “The Waste of Dreadrift” for example, the track begins with an acoustic interlude that pulls toward a Middle Eastern calling, but one with more of a Testament/Eric Peterson type of flair or influence. Building up quite nicely for the first minute or so the song breaks out into a raging death number. That aforementioned Morbid Angel/Nile conglomeration is in full effect as fat death grooved hooks backed by simple yet extremely mighty synths produce quite an epic nature. Everything is stirring and driving with a damn near cinematic vitality to it all with the clean male vocals bringing to mind Borknagar in their glorious days. This is great stuff and only gets better when the track takes a turn toward a beautiful yet eerie inducing feel of piano based melody with the clean vocals taking on more of a disturbed “demented clean” Travis Ryan (Cattle Decapitation) quality. The track eventually fading out in total awesomeness with that piano melody.

I could go on and break down all the badass-ery going on within each track of Bloodtide  Rising, but that would take away so much from the initial listening experience for one delving into the album. That surprise of finding such an engaging and terrifically crafted work is definitely part of Xael‘s allure and even the fun that I had listening to them. When I choose an artist/album for review, I almost always get that first experience with the album in before I read any real press or bio information; mainly because I don’t want to be swayed one way or another in my opinion right off the bat. I bring this up because from my intial listening session with Bloodtide Rising the band were able to conjure up quite a picture of dynamics.

A smorgasbord of sounds all coming together to paint an experience of organic heaviness that produces a fantastic imagery in the mind’s eye that is every bit as alluring as the audile intricacies that produce it. Seriously, this thing had me picturing scenes of an otherwordly, and even underworldly, Stargate and Dune-ish nature. A blending of space, time, and archaeolgical histories. Then when I read the band’s press release for Bloodtide Rising, I knew these guys hit the nail on the head more squarely than I had even imagined.

“In Xael, we are trying to not only create some brutal and primal metal but cultivate the fusion of storytelling and epic adventures. We are building a multiverse with diverse planets and odd-powerful creatures, taking listeners on a journey.”

In regards to the theme of Bloodtide Rising, Xael explains, “This specific album follows the ‘watchers’ as we are assimilated into the vile and mysterious world of Vuul Athmar. It is a tragic love story turned horror. Musically, we incorporate tribal elements, Asian and traditional folk instruments, and an array of vocals to capture the variety of emotions. Though there was a global pandemic, we worked hard to bring this musical odyssey alive and we are excited to finally share it.”

Kudos to the guys in Xael. They should be excited to share Bloodtide Rising with the metal masses, and you out there reading this right now, well, you are the metal masses, and you should be excited to listen and experience this album for yourself. As for myself, I’m chocking this up to being one of the best releases so far in 2021 and can damn near assure you that you’ll be seeing Bloodtide Rising making an appearance on my list of best albums at the end of the year.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Kristofor Allred
May 20th, 2021

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