Sometimes you want to listen to an album that pushes the boundaries of what metal is capable of by incorporating interesting and innovative instrumentation and songwriting. Sometimes you want to listen to an album that stirs the soul and seeks to provoke deep introspection and provide a resonant message. Sometimes you want to listen to an album so stupid dumb heavy that you forget how to do math. If you’re like me and you have almost no use for times tables in your daily life anymore, then Perth, Australia, natives Xenobiotic’s sophomore album Mordrake will treat you just right.
All of that is not to say that there isn’t anything interesting or soul-stirring going on here. On the contrary, this is an album that is very evocative, albeit of a single set of emotions rather than a broad spectrum. This is an album that pounds, pummels and, yes, slaps where its contemporaries are more playful and tactful with their aggression. Tracks like “Light That Burns the Sky,” “Inverted,” and “Grieving the Loss of Self” eschew melodic sensibility in favor of a more direct approach reminiscent of a demolition crew annihilating an abandoned building. Adding some much-needed depth to the sound are cuts like newly released single “Saphris” and “Acedia,” which feature a lot of the elements that lend emotional weight to an album, the former featuring delicate piano and clean singing, and the latter showcasing the eerie and unsettling guitar melodies underlaying the relentless assault.
Mordrake marks a noticeable refining of the band’s sound since their 2018 debut Prometheus. Where the sound there garnered positive acclaim and brought the band a decent following, everything seems to be taken to the next level here. The heavier parts are much, much heavier. The dissonance is more prominent and lends a stronger sense of mood to the sound. The most noticeable change in their sound is the heavily increased emphasis on the technical aspect of their songwriting. Xenobiotic underwent a significant lineup change between albums and it shows in the caliber of musicianship, or at least the songwriting and vision of the band. Angular melodies and off-beat rhythms lend an almost Meshuggah-esque vibe to “Fractured” and “Light That Burns the Sky” that isn’t as present in their older material. Overall, they sound more mature and focused, and it’s clear that they’re not done pushing themselves yet.
Can we also take a second to talk about Mariusz Lewandowski and what a phenomenal job he consistently does with album art? He is very rapidly becoming my favorite artist when it comes to album art (or maybe even in general), and this stunning cover is no exception. From Mirror Reaper to Cairn to Walk Beyond the Dark and so many others, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him misstep when it comes to capturing the mood of an album and Mordrake is no exception. It’s gotten to the point where all I need to know about an album is that he’s drawing the cover for it and I’m instantly sold, but trust that you won’t be disappointed by what’s inside either.
Sure, this is an album that you could argue is a little monochromatic in its sound. It really only does one thing from start to finish, but it does that one thing exceptionally well, and you can’t argue with the neck-wrenching, headbanging results. You know exactly what you’re getting yourself into when you put on track one, and if you’re in the mood to have your gray matter beaten into submission then this album will put a smile on your face.