A gem and some questions
-- Xeno --
|■||Progressive death metal|
|■||Daniel De Coninck||Guitar|
|■||Ruben Willemsen||Vocals, bass|
|■||Lars Van Mourik||Drums|
Review written by David "Orcish Shredder" Hardy.
The Dutch metal band Xeno gives us some new material in the form a of 3-track EP which feature a progressive extreme metal style that they're starting to master well. Simply put, Xeno's style is aggressive prog metal with synths and clean vocals wherein you add notes of growl and blasts to push the style towards a more death metal oriented style.
This Xeno mini-album named "Reconstruction" was released on November 16th of last year (a bit late for an album review but still worth ut!) via Art Gates Records and it gives us a throwback to their first album "Atlas construct" which dates, already, from 2016 but that I haven't found yet on the web! We did, however, made a review of of Xeno's previous album 'Sojoun' (which you can read here: https://www.belgianmetalshredder.be/reviews/283.)
So I suggest you to approach the following review under two aspects: The evolution between the previous album and what I necessarily think of the new EP 'Reconstruction.'
Come on, let's go!
The first track "Columns" is... let's be frank, a long one! But it's written in a way that it justifies its 11-minute length. That being said, you can clearly cut it in half around the middle (especially at the part wherein the pianos kick in) and make it two tracks, both equally good without any problem. I would have only one reproach, it is the part (mainly at the beginning but which returns thereafter) which is played in syncopation and it's just too much for my taste, I almost made me want to vomit, not that the title is bad, but the excessive syncopation parts did spoil it a bit for me! ... this said, if you pass the test, this opening title is really nice with its well-tied alternations and allowing a seamless listening session as this almost 12-minute long song smoothly switches between powerful riffs and growling vocals, slower sections of clean singing and ambient piano sessions! All juiced up by prog and symphony.
Next up comes "Pillards" and I must immediately mention this song's 5:39 section, it's such a great part! This section comes to counterbalance the heavy riffing, growling and blasting part and to give a new dimension to this song, to make room for a worthy finale. A beginning with all the extreme metal elements you can think of for Xeno to then move on to this more "soft metal" part, it's clear that they've done their homework in order to manage the tempo and style changes. Quite a success on the part of Xeno to say the least and my personal favorite track on this EP. Good management of the length, good management of the tempo & stylistic changes, good management of everything and the final orchestral lead, ... a very good track!
To finish this 3-track EP, Xeno offers us "Gift" and it ends a bit like a treat with its only 3:37 in length! What can I say about this song? In this track we're clearly out of the progressive metal, which makes me think they're still hesitant as to where they want to go stylistically. The duration is, quite surprising. It seems that they made this track to be broadcasted on radio stations and thus to promote the EP. There's only one problem: It doesn't give a very accurate vision of what Xeno's 'Reproduction' EP has to offer! In fact, this "Gift" track barely shows 30% of what the band offers artistically (not just in terms of length but also in terms of content). So, for me, it's a bad choice of track and a rather lackluster ending. Attention however, the title is nice, I just criticise it for it being rather unrepresentative of Xeno's style and thus rendering this particular song almost "irrelevant."
While listening to Xeno's 'Reproduction' EP and comparing to their 2020 'Sejourn' album I've noticed that there has been a clear evolution within Xeno's management of their own style and we see a little more as to where they're going. However, the last "bonbon" blurs the tracks a bit. Personally I liked "Dusk" from the previous album and I'd say that "Pillards" comes close in construction but with more success in terms of overall quality.
I would say that the preceding 'Sojoun' album gave probably gave us more musicality and clearer vocals, while this new 'Reproduction' EP is more percussive and intelligently realized.
In both cases, the production is well done, which makes listening to either of these two releases a pleasant and smooth experience which is a very good thing!
What to retain then
We feel the evolution in the way of production and the composition (we call that maturity), I've genuinely enjoyed listening to Xeno's 'Reconstruction' EP but, as much it gives me joy to listening to this EP again, I'm a little worried that I didn't find any more readability in this EP as in what direction Xeno is going for. To be clear, the three songs on 'Reconstruction' are all of different lengths and optics and while we could have had more distance between those tracks if they were part of a full-length release, here the changes are a bit forced and don't paint a clear picture as to what a Xeno's future album would sound like.
So I'll be patiently waiting for an album in which Xeno clarify themselves to me, where they will confirm whether they'll go into the direction of the unpredicatable versatilty of "Collumns," the symphonic majesty of "Closure" or the straight-forward extreme of "Gift." But that's something I let Xeno decide for themselves. I know, it's difficult when you know how to do a lot of things, but at some point you have to choose which style best defines you. As the saying goes:" You win some, you lose some." So come on guys, get your courage and your heads together and finalize the Xeno style.
But like I said earlier, I had a great time listening to Xeno's new EP. While it's style is quite inconsistent accross it's 3 tracks, the band shows a power and flexibilty that you don't often see within prog death metal.