Xael – “The Last Arbiter” [Album Review]

The Band:

  • Nassaru – Vocals and guitar
  • Tuurm – Lead guitar and secondary vocalist
  • Xolotl – Bass and backing vocals
  • Sorgiem – Lead guitar and backing vocals
  • Droth – Drummer
  • Rei – Female vocals

Track List:

  1. The Last Arbiter
  2. Srai
  3. The Wayfarer of Tymeer
  4. Watchers of Xan
  5. Apathy of the Immortal
  6. I am Pestilence
  7. In the Hallows of Pathos
  8. Secrets of the Third Tribe
  9. Harvesting the Elders Genome

Buy the album here.

Xael undertook an ambitious journey when it came to their debut record. The Last Arbiter is a bold album, filled with smart intersplicing of folk, orchestrations and extreme metal soundscapes in a bid to create a science-fiction concept piece. While Xael’s ideas were exciting and bold, they got lost to some extent thanks to an underwhelming production and the odd bit of over-complication.

Let’s begin, however, with what works. The orchestrations are excellent throughout The Last Arbiter and awards the album a richness that few other in the extreme metal world can claim. There is drama, excitement, and soundscapes of war during the record’s 48 minute or so run time. “I am Pestilence” for example, opens with dark brooding tribal drumming that wouldn’t sound out-of-place in a Sepultura or Gojira number, and then leads into a dirty riff, with chorus-like operatic vocals and violin sounds. At its core, this is a heavy, death metal track, but its orchestrations allow it a healthy amount of substance. So to does the mixing of vocalists, of which there are three in the band – ranging from death growls and gang vocals to the operatic. This is a song that takes on a journey through battlefields and out again, with all the madness, power and serenity that can lie within. When everything clicks, just as it does in “I am Pestilence”, Xael are really rather good.

Despite the strong songwriting on show here, however, scattered throughout the record are moments that should simply have been left on the cutting room floor. The absolute silence at the end of “Apathy of the Immortal”, which leads into the opening of “I am Pestilence” is an editing oversight. The 1:52 “Watchers of Xan” doesn’t add anything tremendously memorable to the proceedings and I imagine it is likely to be on the receiving end of the skip button for most. There are moments of filler such as this scattered throughout The Last Arbiter, but it is a small issue and one that can be amended with a little more tightness to the detailed compositions in any potential follow-up. The Last Arbiter is an enjoyable record despite any little inconsistencies it may have.

My biggest gripe with The Last Arbiter is in its production and mix. The power and majesty of the record is lost in a muddy mixture of mid-tones, tinny drums and fuzzy low notes. It’s hard to pick up on the intricacies of the detailed compositions even when turned up loud. Worst of all, the vocals are drowned out consistently. There’s a very good album here, but it is buried in shoddy production and that’s a big shame. Fans of Ex Deo should have a blast with The Last Arbiter, but will struggle to enjoy its production values.

I wanted to like Xael’s debut record a lot more than I did. The songwriting can be excellent, with detailed compositions jam-packed with extreme metal shenanigans alongside tremendous use of orchestration and folk elements. The bold vision behind The Last Arbiter however, is unfortunately better than the execution thanks to random bits of total silence thrown in for some reason and a hugely underwhelming production and mix that drowns out the vocals and makes for some sadly muddy textures. Buried underneath the poor mix is a great album and hopefully this will come to play in any follow-up.


A very good album ruined by shoddy production.


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