When one who is familiar with the label sits down with a Unique Leader release, there are a few items which come to mind. Firstly, this is going to likely be technical death metal. There will be fantastic musicianship on display. Frequently, the production will also be brick walled, and it may be difficult to distinguish one instrument from the other. However, recently, this tide seems to have turned quite a bit, as there have been many releases from the label that do not fit this mold. So, how does the latest release, Mordrake, from Xenobiotic fit?

Before going into that, I must admit I have not previously heard this band. Research told me that this is not their debut, but having not heard it, I was going into this completely blind, which can be good or bad. Immediately, I realized this is not at all what I expected from the label in question. I expected the weedily-weedilies (you know exactly what I mean) and blast beats galore right from the word “go.” This is not that at all.

Instead of the above, I am reminded of Conscious Seed of Light/Monarchy era Rivers of Nihil (not the saxophone era of Where Owls Know My Name) as well as some Planetary Duality era of The Faceless. This is not a bad thing as I hold these bands in high esteem.

The first track, “Insomnia,” may keep you up at night, so it fits. This is a high energy, balls to the wall opener. It is very indicative of what’s to come. This track is heavy, fast, and will hit you right in the face. This is a solid start to the album and has me looking forward to the rest of it.

The next track I want to discuss (because I feel like I could go on forever about this record) is “Saphris,” which is track 6. This came out of nowhere and did so very quickly. The usage of clean vocals has quite an impact, as it is a welcome reprieve from the constant bludgeoning. These clean vocals come courtesy of Departe vocalist Sam Dishington. There’s nothing wrong with being beaten to a pulp, but “Saphris” is a welcome reprieve to catch one’s breath.

On tracks 10 and 11, we have come to the end of the record. “Mordrake I: Reverie,” switches into what could reasonably be called an interlude with about a minute left in the track, which of course segues into “Mordrake II: Acquiesce.” This is the last track on the album at a little over 7 minutes in length and it feels like a conclusion, especially with the fade out at the end.

Mordrake is 46 minutes long. When it comes to a full length, 46 minutes is bordering on too long for my attention span, especially when it comes to a style of music that can be quite exhausting for the ears. The fact that this album isn’t too long and doesn’t hurt my ears, speaks volumes for what Xenobiotic have accomplished here. I’ve yet to see a negative review of this album and I understand why. Many of these reviews praise it as an album of the year contender. I’m not sure I’m there… yet. I am, however in awe of this record. The 46 minutes truly fly by. It feels as though the album is only a half hour long and continuously beckons me to start it over again the moment it finishes. If this isn’t the mark of a great record, I honestly don’t know what is. While it is early in the year, and I only truly have one record on my “albums of the year” list, I would not be surprised if Mordrake ends up there. While there is certainly no reinventing of the wheel going on here, there’s something to be said for (nearly) perfecting it. If it wasn’t obvious by the absurd amount of gushing, I am a huge fan of this record. I am certain you will be as well.


[Visit the band's website]
Written by J Mays
April 15th, 2020


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