Monday, 13 August 2012

Review: A Million Dead Birds Laughing - Xen

An Intriguing Swampy Sound

At first I wrote this album off as a step down from it's predecessor. I suppose this is because Force Fed Enlightenment is more immediately gratifying - it's more in your face and has more happening on the surface. Xen is a more subtle and congruent album. While the other album was all over the place (not in a bad way, mind you), Xen sticks to one overall vibe. A creepy swamp-like feel is maintained throughout the album. There are lots of atmospheric parts, and the doomy sections are expanded on for this release. This still has it's roots in grindcore and death metal, and it's still weird. It's just weird in a different way. 

While this album holds a much more consistent sound than it's precursor, it is hardly lacking in variation. There are lots of tempo changes, lots of atmospherics, a fair bit of technical guitar work as well as a good deal of straight forward riffs. A few well thought-out solos work their way into the mix, as well. While there are lots of different sections, including quieter parts, songwriting stands strongly at the forefront. Without strong song writing for the death and grind sections, all the subtle nuances would be for nothing, making this album come off like a dish with lots of nice spices covering up bad meat. However, the core of this album is solid. The slow doomy sections (doomy refers to the atmosphere, these parts are by no means doom metal) are integral to this album. Without them, the album would still be passable, but it would be missing intrigue. It is the contrast of the more aggressive sections with these abysmal dirges that make Xen so worthwhile. These sections where somewhat apparent on Force Fed Enlightenment but are much more prominent and developed on this sophomore.

Like their last album, this is available for free on Bandcamp, although you have an option of paying (which they totally deserve). On the page for this album, they once again have a quote: “(Insanity) is not hubris, not pride; it is inflation of the ego to its ultimate - confusion between him who worships and that which is worshipped. Man has not eaten God; God has eaten man.” Once again insanity, as well as other subjects related to psychology are apparent in the lyrics. They still go for some occasional metal trappings, but they go much beyond that. This contributes to this album's bizarre aura. While many parts are aggressive, the album as a whole feels more creepy and suspenseful than in your face. Xen begins and ends with creepy whistling. Starting the album this way lets listeners know that they are in for an unsettling journey.

Xen is the type of album that may take some time to grow on you, but it's well worth it in the end. While not the most orthodox affair, it is by far the weirdest (their first album was much more bizarre, for example). This perfectly displays a mix of conventional and unusual elements. The alien, swampy feel of this recording is quite engrossing. All of the different parts converge in harmony to create one coherent, intriguing sound. 


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