XAON – The Lethean (Album Review)

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As December looms near and “Album of the Year” lists begin to come together, there is one 2022 release that should not be missed: Xaon’s third album, “The Lethean.” This Swiss quintet has crafted an opus of absolutely epic proportions, one that offers up beauty of unrivaled artistic vision, and there is no doubt “The Lethean” is a must-listen for any fans of symphonic death metal. Xaon excel in sonic storytelling, with their style combining influences from progressive, blackened death, and symphonic metal. Rich orchestral layering meshes beautifully with unrestrained metallic brutality, and this contrast ignites a fire of wonder that will burn deep in the listener’s heart long after the final note fades. To witness such ingenuity and ambition in the modern symphonic death metal scene is nothing short of miraculous.

The Lethean” marks considerable change for Xaon, and not just in the stylistic growth from sophomore outing “Solipsis.” Perhaps the greatest change to note is the lineup, which experienced a full lineup change amongst instrumentalists, one which leaves founder and mastermind Rob Carson as the only original member. With regards to the stylistic changes, “The Lethean” sees Xaon skillfully increase their use of symphonic elements while simultaneously introducing a more balanced mixture of clean and harsh vocals. This pulls “The Lethean” away from the depths of severity and errs on the side of metal’s more cinematic offerings. That’s not to say that “The Lethean” pulls any punches – rather, it tempers its fire with an alluring sort of darkness. It’s a darkness that is haunting, tempting, and undeniably seductive.

If I Had Wings” is undoubtedly one of the album’s strongest tracks, notable in that it is both able to stand strong on its own as well as fit seamlessly into the album’s overall flow. Xaon have also created a music video that is absolutely worth one’s time, as the video blends the band’s impassioned performance with a melancholic narrative, and the beautiful setting makes for a breathtaking backdrop. Lyrical allusions to Icarus and the wax melting from his wings is the metaphorical opposite of a song that soars with confident grandiosity. The track length gives the chorus time to truly make its mark, and as the musical tone shifts throughout the track, the lofty chorus tangles with both hope and sorrow. Lead single “Wayward Sun” is just as noteworthy, particularly for its masterful transitions between atmospheric intonations. Beginning with heavy bass tones, “Wayward Sun” soon erupts into a battle between guitars and percussion, explosive in its power and assertive with its orchestral presence. Its trudging chorus is memorable, not just for Carson’s emotive voice, but for the angelic horns and chorals that make an already moving piece even more impactful. And although these two songs are highlights of “The Lethean,” they gain much of their allure from the compositional strength present in the rest of the album.

“The Lethean” Album Artwork

This album is all about moments that move the soul as much as they encourage the listener to move with the blast beats. “A Kiss of Winter” has a relentlessly upbeat tempo, one that stirs the heart to thundering along with the percussion. The sheer dramatic depth of its pre-chorus, coupled with aggressive symphonic accents and an oriental interlude, make this a thrilling penultimate exploration. The closing track, “Telos,” offers a gentle acoustic foray, and it is a brilliant piece of songwriting rooted in a sense of satisfying finality. It’s also a final opportunity to understand just how versatile Carson’s voice is, as the listener is invited to sink in the waves of melancholy and hope alongside him. “A Golden Silence” introduces further dimension with artistic and skillful use of spoken word in addition to measured transitions between verses and chorus. This is another songwriting strength that reappears throughout “The Lethean:” transitions across moods and songs are smooth, never jarring the listener between different aural climates.

One surprise buried within “The Lethean” is just how long its tracks are. Aside from the 90-second opening instrumental, the tracks range from four minutes to nearly eight minutes long, averaging around six minutes long. In a genre that focuses on intensity and aggressive paces, this is a length more suited to progressive metal and its oft-meandering passages. Yet Xaon has used track length and album runtime to their advantage, using every available second to explore the dichotomy between sonic light and darkness, and elevating their musicianship to the next level. It opens up opportunities for guitarists Eerik Maurage and Klin HC to take center stage with furious riffing and breakneck shredding. For a feat of drumming mastery, look no further than “And Yet I Smile,” where Julien Racine absolutely owns every moment behind the kit. Further intrigue is added to “And Yet I Smile” by a dancing keyboard and a passage recited in smooth French, with Racine keeping pace at every step. The gentle approach to drums and percussion in the orchestral-centered pieces keeps the album’s momentum flowing, and it also gives great opportunity to appreciate the sheer endurance required for tracks like “In Pyrrhic Seas.”

Frankly, it’s a tragedy that Xaon have not yet skyrocketed to the very forefront of the symphonic death metal scene. One could dare say it’s a tragedy they aren’t the centerpiece of modern metal as a whole. There are few other contemporary acts that are willing to be so ambitious as to push forward with stylistic evolution while still delivering music with unyielding quality. This is certainly ground that has been tread before, as there are numerous connections to be made with foundational acts like Dimmu Borgir, but to see Xaon continue to push the limits of their own capabilities is a treat indeed. The production is sound, the ingenuity is ever-present, and the musicianship is second to none. If there is any album you listen to in an attempt to catch up on 2022 – is it really almost over? – “The Lethean” is the one. Cheers to Xaon for another masterpiece, and raising a glass to the hope of a future just as bright.

Release Date: July 11th, 2022
Record Label: Independent
Genre: Symphonic Death Metal

Musicians:

  • Rob Carson / Vocals
  • Julien Racine / Drums
  • Laure Begue / Bass
  • Eerik Maurage / Guitar
  • Klin HC / Guitar

“The Lethean” Tracklist:

  1. The Lethean
  2. The Hunt
  3. A Golden Silence
  4. If I Had Wings
  5. And Yet I Smile
  6. In Pyrrhic Seas
  7. Wanton
  8. Wayward Sun
  9. A Kiss of Winter
  10. Telos
 
 

8.9 Excellent

Undoubtedly, “The Lethean” is a must-listen for any fans of symphonic death metal. Rich orchestral layering meshes beautifully with metallic fury, and this battle between light and dark defines one of the most adept metal albums of the year.

  • Songwriting 9.5
  • Musicianship 8.5
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 9
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