I always get excited when “symphonic/progressive metal” comes up in a band description because I immediately know I can expect something beyond the scope of the ordinary. And that is why it was with great fervor that I approached Oblivion, the debut release from Exxiles, due out in May. Given it’s a new project boasting members and guest contributors from bands like Symphony X, Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Ayreon, among others, I felt there was the promise of something grand with this album.
After listening to the record several times straight through, I’m not as excited about the album as I once was, although I’ll grant that for many, Oblivion will be thoroughly enjoyable. The core musical elements are solid, competently performed and well-engineered. It’s a solid metal record with obvious roots in the styles pioneered by the bands mentioned above and along with sonically satisfying orchestral elements. Tracks like “Introspective” and “Dictator of Trust” are dynamic, heavy and full of everything you’d expect from a super-group with the collective influences that Exxiles have.
To me, though, that’s where the problem lies with Oblivion. There really isn’t anything on the album that I didn’t expect; nothing to take me by surprise. There isn’t any of the innovation I wanted from a collective described as “progressive.” In fact, I personally think the album is more of a rock opera in a symphonic, power-metal format, because it’s very clear that the focus is primarily on the lyrical concept and the musical elements fall into a largely supportive role. The rhythmic structures are consistently straightforward, and the non-vocal melodic elements don’t really distinguish themselves, save for the occasional guitar solo or orchestral swell.
The first track, “A Better Legacy,” has a really awkward vocal performance. There is a seemingly random intonation of the vocals that doesn’t always conform to the key signature of the music. I’m not sure if it is the lyrics or just the way they are delivered, but the effect is something I can only call corny, kind of like hearing a conversational dialogue put to music. The purpose is obviously to move a story or concept forward, but the content just doesn’t fit into the musical context in a very pleasing way. This isn’t noticeable all the time, but it is prevalent enough to be off-putting. This issue seems to clear up eventually, but it returns again during “Awakening Part 1” and “The Messenger.” Again, it isn’t as consistently a bothersome element, but it’s there during the mellow parts where the vocals demand the most focus and makes those parts a little distracting.
Something else that sticks out to me is the track “Llorona” which, although a very nice intermission featuring a female vocalist singing in Spanish over an orchestral ensemble, seems a bit out of place. Similar pieces are typical on many albums like this one, so you can have a break from all the metalling and maybe get a sense of the band’s ability with a different style. But this particular song seems to go on a bit longer than you’d expect, clocking in at almost five minutes. Given that it stands starkly apart from all other tones and themes on the rest of the album (it has no heavy parts and it is the only appearance of this female vocalist), it has a sense of being out of place, almost as if the engineer accidentally included a track from another artist’s project on the Exxiles’s album. It’s not a bad song in its own right, but I feel like it really could have been left out, especially seeing as how it’s immediately followed by a six-minute instrumental, “Entropy,” which could’ve served a similar purpose on the album.
Despite what I’ve written in this review, I would still describe Oblivion as a very worthwhile album, especially if you are a fan of the various bands from which the members of Exxiles hail. I have very little criticism to offer concerning the performance, technical ability or the overall sound of the album, and for those who want a story or enjoy a good concept album, Oblivion is right up your alley. My strictures here are merely based on the fact that I wasn’t blown away by it. From what I understand, this album is only part one of a trilogy, so I will remain hopeful that the upcoming volumes may serve to change my opinion.
Oblivion is out May 26 on Nightmare Records. Pre-order it here.
SkullsNBones Rating (Out Of 5):