It’s only a few months since solo act Xanathar released their Darkmoon debut tape, yet they’re already back with The Towers. Darkmoon was a fun adventure, thematically based upon the old Eye of the Beholder video games and capturing a sense of that same magic – swords, sorcery, and slightly raw production. The mix of black and Cirith Ungol-style metal was a big success on Darkmoon, doing exactly what a demo should do – providing a good listen on its own, and leaving the listener excited to hear more. So, does The Towers live up to the promise of that first demo?
In short: yes. There’s a clear evolution between the two tapes, with The Towers sounding that bit fuller and stronger in terms of production, giving Xanathar’s music an extra bit of punch. Notably, the bass is quite strong in the mix, giving the songs an extra bit of weight and adding extra melodic lines that play off the guitar riffs. It’s especially successful on opener ‘The Test of Fate’, a high-energy ride of raw power that captures all that is good about metal.
Second track, ‘Four Winds’, provides the dungeon synth interlude that seems to be a requisite of almost all underground black metal records recently. It’s brighter and more optimistic than most dungeon synth tracks you’ll hear on a metal tape though, and keeps some of the energy and momentum from the opener going, though I can’t help but feel it would have worked better as the closing track of the EP. Either way though, it’s hardly bad, and doesn’t do anything to harm the record, unlike so many other mood breaks.
Closer ‘Medusa’s Labyrinth’ is the most ambitious track Xanathar have put out to date, and draws considerably from the legacy of prog upon early metal. An eight minute, well, labyrinth of a song, it opens in relatively calm fashion with clean guitar that is soon joined by distorted screams, which in turn give way to dramatic clean vocals. As the song moves on it gradually grows harsher, its majestic opening giving way to full-blooded violence without ever losing its melodic inclinations. It’s a delightful synthesis of old-school metal and early black metal, grandiose without being pretentious or bombastic, and delivering a sense of scale that does the lyrical inspiration justice.
As such, The Towers is just the follow-up you’d have hoped for after Darkmoon. It’s a clear continuation from that first demo, and an improvement in almost every way. Xanathar are one of the underground bands I’m most excited about this year, and The Towers shows exactly why.
The Towers is out now and can be ordered here.
Words: Stuart Wain