REVIEW: Xehanort – Stray God [2018]

Artist: Xehanort 

Album: Stray God 


For millions—Hell, billions—of people around the world, when things get hard, they rely on a deity to send help. They throw their hands up in hapless, helpless, hopeless prayer, begging for anything to save them. The human condition is to keep digging a deeper and deeper hole with the assumption that, when we’re in over our heads, an omnipotent, omnipowerful, all-knowing being will lift us by the scruff of our collective neck like a misbehaving puppy and scoop us out of our own mistakes.  

But what if he’s not there? What if he isn’t paying attention? What if God phoned in sick for the day and you’re stuck with nothing. Nothing but the 2018 full-length record by progressive metallers-turned-symphonic deathcore, Xehanort.  

Stray God is a conceptual release that utilizes just about every style of heavy music you could want or need to tell a series of stories that keep the listener engaged from start to finish. With mesmerizing, melodic moments that stand in stark contrast to segments of skull-splitting heaviness, Stray God is a simply beautiful record that spans the cosmos of metal’s many styles and sub genres to bring a jaw-dropping and beautiful experience right to the listener’s eardrums.  

It’s hard to limit the entire majesty of Xehanort’s instrumentation to a measly paragraph, but here goes. Stray God is a beautiful record. Taking mesmerizing, melodic and symphonic elements and weaving them between pillars of pure punishment (in the form of furious breakdowns) and intense technicality, Xehanort emerge an even stronger force to be reckoned with than their previous records might have otherwise indicated. Songs like “KVLD,” or really any song see percussionist Jason Berlin dominating with every tool in a sound drummer’s kit: speed, transitioning, technicality, intricacy, power—it’s all there. “KVLD” or the “Stray God” series highlight this brilliantly. Meanwhile, Berlin’s drumming is a bold and sturdy foundation for the efforts of bassist Spence Howard, who may not dominate the mix as boldly as some of Xehanort’s peers, but still plays an integral role in the brilliance that is Stray God. The “Shinigami” series is a sound example—with Howard and Berlin holding down a thick, low foundation for guitarist Aynsley Giunta to work atop. Guinta’s guitar playing is much of what makes Xehanort such an immense project—for, between Guinta’s furious fretwork and the mesmerizing symphonies that define “Mo Mana, Mo Problems” and just about every banger that rounds out Stray God, just about every style of heavy music is touched on. With bouncy, almost-djenty grooves on “Shinigami I,” devastating breakdowns on “KVLD,” and atmosphere aplenty elsewhere on the release, the band’s instrumental efforts make them simply one of the best still holding down the progressive-meets-symphonic-meets-deathcore metal front.  

Xehanort’s boundless instrumental dynamism is matched perfectly by the efforts of frontman John Galloway, whose voice (singing, screaming, any combination thereof), whose voice is the crown jewel that rounds out Stray God‘s lustre. Galloway’s vicious roars on “KVLD” or “//A Lunar Landing” are absolutely ferocious, ranging from shrill yells to bottomless bellows—while his singing voice is stunning on “Shinigami (I and II)” or “Wipe Your Annals!” Galloway’s lyricism is just as stunning, giving Stray God its conceptual flair—which, without ruining too much—is riveting and marvelously thought out, using intricacies one might have previously seen or heard from artists like Slice the Cake. Galloway’s voice, lyricism, energy, endurance and dynamism give an extra dimension to Xehanort that makes Stray God truly stand out from the efforts of other contemporary progressive acts, giving it the feel of an intelligent, vibrant release that still knows how to fight dirty and hit hard—like an Ivy League educated boxer.  

Stray God is hard to describe with words on a page—so if the article feels brief, forgive me, it’s just bordering on impossible to touch on each aspect of Xehanort’s dynamic, sound and style that makes them so incredibly worth checking out. Stray Gods is an impressive fifty-some minutes long—which means it isn’t for the faint of heart—and may feel rather daunting by the time the introductory two-parter concludes—but when “KVLD” picks up, the listener’s sense of time will become fluid, warped by the powerful skills of Berlin, Howard, Guinta and Galloway. Bone-busting, thought-provoking, complex emotionally and otherwise, Stray God is the very embodiment of “prog” in 2018, using everything from death metal and deathcore to post-metal and symphonic metal to hit home one of the most ambitious and awe-inspiring records the genre has witnessed to date. 



For Fans Of: Slice the Cake, Lorelei, Vildhartja, Make them Suffer 

By: Connor Welsh