Thursday, May 21, 2015

Album Review: Exxiles - Oblivion

A growing trend has been the increasing number of what can be dubbed "all star" metal albums, where a single songwriter gathers up as many big name guest stars as possible, and creates an event album. The trend probably started with Avantasia, but has seen more and more jumping on, because the bigger the roster of known names, the easier it is for a project to garner some attention. There will always be fans who hear that they're favorite singer is on an album, who then have to go out and get it, just for the one song. The problem with these kinds of records is that they rarely feel cohesive, because a singer is so integral to the overall sound of the music. With the vocals changing from song to song, the very identity of the album changes, and the whole thing has trouble establishing an identity.

Exxiles is one of these projects, although they wisely eschew the biggest of big names, in favor of singers and players who don't often get their due. While that is good for those of us tired of hearing Michael Kiske guesting on yet another record, it also means that there isn't a big name draw for those of us who aren't inclined to try out every album we hear about.

Exxiles' take is one of modern progressive power metal, the kind that does away with all the hokey qualities that lead people to call it 'flower metal', instead focusing on heavy guitars and chunky riffs. The music here isn't as technical as Nevermore was, but it's in the same spirit. In fact, the instrumentals are the best part of this album. The brain-trust that put this together known how to play, and they have a good ear for writing power metal that is at the heavier end of the spectrum. It has that typical modern sound, but it's one that is rarely well-utilized in power metal, so it's good to hear it done properly.

Unfortunately, that brings us to the problem with the record; the guest vocalists.

I don't know what the creative process behind the album was, so I can't say whether it's a case of a single writer who wasn't well versed in how to write for different voices, or if each singer came up with their own parts and didn't put in the effort, but the vocal parts throughout the record are simply lacking. From one track to the next, regardless of who is singing, there aren't the hooks necessary to sell this music. The singers themselves put in fine performances, but the material is weak.

This starts with the first song, as Zak Stevens winds up singing what might be the flattest track I've ever heard him on. Normally, he can turn anything into a memorable track, but even he can't save the melody here. Through the rest of the album, this trend continues. Singer after singer comes along, and all of them leave the same way; without delivering the big chorus the music needs. Coupled with the shift in vocal tone with each singer, and the album really struggles to define itself.

The bottom line with "Oblivion" is that it's one of those albums that has potential, but doesn't live up to it. What I hear is a record that should have been the basis for a solid band, not a revolving door project. If Exxiles can find a single great singer, one who can write strong melodies for this kind of heavy power metal (it's not as easy as it sounds), they have a chance to be a great band. The foundation is there, they just need to find the right coat of paint.

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