A Rough and Diverse Sound Crawling Its Way Under Your Skin
Review by Cat Maverick (aka Bastian Blessing)
A few weeks ago I visited the second Metal Crane Festival in Helsinki. The festival – just like my whole trip to Finland – was a unique and overwhelming experience, which is why I decided to write an article about it and tell the world (see). Before the festival, most of the band names on the lineup were unknown to me, including Medeia. My mentor (Ms Cesar Little) asked me to pick my favorite bands of the festival to be included as photos as well. Leading the list of favorites was Medeia.
Having brought home a pile of merchandise including the two first albums Abandon All and Cult, I was intrigued to give a first listen to the new release Xensosis as well. That’s why my initial impressions, as well as a detailed analysis, are illustrated equally in this review.
Some general words about the album up-front: Xenosis was released in early 2019, bringing 10 new songs of an overall length of approximately 43 minutes, which is comparable to the two previous albums. This is the only form of stability though, as, besides that, the band evolved a lot, utilizing their versatile talents and musical stylistics to a brutal, massive and yet sophisticated sound.
Invasion of the insects – A reflection on mankind?
Let’s start the review by taking a look at the album artwork, depicting a surreal puzzle of various insects as well as the face of a creature similar to the ones seen on previous albums. Having an equally unsettling as grotesquely beautiful vibe, this summarizes pretty much the capabilities of the band, also bringing together a diverse mix of styles and elements into something intriguing, captivating and overwhelming.
Talking about the stories and pictures arranged by the band, we enter the domain of interpretation. A word of caution for everyone wanting to understand every detail and message delivered: Take your time! Even though only being a mid-sized album, the songs are so full with imagery, metaphors, philosophy and storytelling that you could take weeks of time getting accustomed to the actual contents.
Here’s my shot of a short thematic summary and assumed interpretation beginning with the very title of the album. A xenosis is a disease that originates in animals but can be transmitted to humans. Some of the songs describe the suffering and pain of a cruel sickness. But there is something else going on in the overall story of the album, which is the rise of an insectoid race gradually surpassing and nearly extinguishing mankind. Those giant insects seem to carry the beforementioned diseases.
There’s a lot of language suggesting critique towards humans and their arrogant, ignorant behavior towards nature. Giving the monopolistic title as highest of the creations to a new species is a disturbing yet reflecting thought.
Let’s bear with the picture of insects for one more moment. As former vocalist Keijo Niinimaa left the band after their last full-length album in 2014, Medeia kept us waiting for a pretty long time now. Six years later (with exception of the Manning the Helm EP in 2015), one could have wondered, what will emerge from the cocoon. A butterfly? A dragon? Something entirely unknown and new?
A butterfly you say? Are we talking about the same band? Yes, indeed, but let me elaborate on this: My first impression of the songs was, that they are a mixture of brutal, rough and every now and then also groovy elements, reminding me of the likes of Meshuggah. But with every time listening to the album, again and again, I could find more subtle yet precise details. We have rhythm driven, rough parts, deep growls, high screams, but also melodic guitar leads as well as piano passages smoothly embedded into the skeleton of Death Metal and Core elements. And at last, there are also experimental rhythms and tempi played with absolute precision, which I am usually only used to from Progressive Metal bands. So yes, there is far more to be found then just a brutal, growling dragon, but also an accurate, well-defined butterfly.
They are bringing a mix of countless stylistic elements to the table AND they are absolutely able to combine and deliver these in a complex musical profile. Not only is new lead vocalist Frans Aalto growling and screaming with several techniques and a broad vocal range, but also are nearly all of the other members contributing to the vocals with singing, shouting or screaming as well. Especially the use of Laura Dziadulewicz‘s female voice allows the band to design dark, atmospheric and soft passages, giving the overall rough sound another facet.
We have some heavy and rough rhythms primarily delivered by bass player Samuli Kuusinen and drummer Janne Putkisaari, who both passionately build an intense foundation for the sound of Medeia. Building upon this, guitarists Samuli Peltola and Pekko Mörö add complex and faster-than-fast leads, proving their luminary talent on their instruments as well.
There is one more musical building block to mention, which is the use of simpler shout-along-prases, that get stuck in the ear, besides the already mentioned diversity of vocal styles. Those allow listeners to already memorize iconic songs after the first time listening to them.
Yes, at first listen I only found a few songs, that stood out for me. Having heard their varied sound live before I continued listening to the album again and again. Make no mistake though, this band is no “standard death metal”. Xenosis is loaded to the brim with details and handpicked nuances. Multifaceted, brutal, precise, fast. Already captivating a listener on the album, this will also allow them to play some brutally ass-kicking live shows.
It is worth mentioning, that the sound quality of recording and production is far better than with the previous albums, showcasing the melodic subtleties crystal clear, but also allowing the brutally rough passages to feel like a hit in your stomach. This accompanies the musical growth of the band and its members like a charm.
Track by Track – my impressions
- Prology – As the album is a prologue itself, the first song Prology needs to be a beginning of biblical extent. Introducing us with some words similar to the ones opening the biblical book Genesis. Tension builds up as screams describe the return of the creator to form a new, insectoid race. A choir sound gives the song an imposing feeling, yet the fast lead guitar makes it somewhat heavy and unsettling. This is the beginning of something disastrous and it’s described in the most authentic manner.
- Insectia – Countless insects can be felt crawling as the fast lead guitar opens the song. This feeling is even more present when looking at the music video of the single. The imagery of the band members turning into insects themselves is going deep under the skin and matches up with the terrifying imagery of insects outgrowing humans, first in size and number, then also in terms of their mind, as they become conscious. I especially like the shouts in the refrain, which allows some partying along on concerts as well as the combination of lead guitar and keyboard melody presented here.
- Shadowmaker – The Shadowmaker seems to be a divine entity existing even before time itself. Describing the countless coincidences and uncontrolled events ultimately leading to this very moment and not only the creation of mankind but also of the insects. The rhythmic sound consisting of long growls, handpicked riffs and precise drum technique, combined with the stunning feeling delivered by the keyboard, triggers sad visions of a cosmic context and the desperate pleading of humans towards this presumably conscious higher being to relieve them from their fate of suffering.
- Phenomenon – The Phenomenon seems to be the disease, that found its way into the human body. It’s a song of intense, painful and overwhelming suffering. I actually felt somewhat uncomfortable from the very first, unsettling noise of the track, some rush growing in the musical patterns as well. The breakdown showcasing the screams “Heartless, Lifeless, Soulless” really hits home. Boiling blood and sweat all over your skin – it is not only in the lyrics but easily something you experience when letting yourself become fully embraced by the song. All the more suiting that this became the first music video and single of the album, showing video clips from the band on tour. Several different concerts have been recorded for this, giving the viewer a first impression of the overwhelming intensity of a Medeia live show. You can see the fast and energetic movements of all the band members, their authentically expressive mimics as well as the passion, intensity and also humor that hits the crowd at the venues.
- Collision Imminent – With this song, we have another single and lyrics music video. The lyrics describe how humans have been prototypes all along, an experiment if you may. Said prototypes seem to have outlived their purpose, which is why there is a Collision Imminent. The less brutal and more melodic song has a high potential to get stuck in the ear especially since it has a lot of passages that are perfectly suited for screaming along. We also have some keyboard passages putting into scene the arrival of the enemy to collide with.
- I´m the Abyss – … brings some full power vocals to the listener. We have some deep guttural growls, hitting right into the stomach pit. As Mother Nature does not care about the humans any longer, which defied here for eons. There are two serenades pictured to be sung by her, “You’re dead to me” and “I´m the Abyss” both of which are built up dramatically as the track becomes almost silent when those very words are whispered. Expecting a more melodic passage, the following breakdowns brutally run the listener over, only leaving him stunned and impressed by the sheer energetic intensity of this sound.
- Ascension – This is my personal favorite on the album as it utilizes the whole bandwidth of various styles, techniques and musical elements, Medeia has to offer.
First time listening to it, the composition already triggered visions in my mind of leaving a cruel world below myself and flying higher and ever higher, which is why I would like to elaborate on these thoughts and interpretations a little more.
Even before reading the very title of the track it felt like I’m ascending rapidly and steadily to highest heights. The brutal and heavy rhythms already known from the previous songs combined with church bells, gunshots and rattling noises launch the track. Going over to softer parts on keys and lead guitar, the melody seems to carry the listener upwards. These passages sound like flying over a city at night only watching, what is happening below, without caring anymore. About halfway through the track, noise starts to get louder as the melody becomes simpler even though not a bit less intense.
We are ascending further. Faster. Blood rushing into the head. The thin air hardly allowing to breath anymore. Numbness sets in on the skin because of the coldness of the height and the speed of ascension. In the end, the sound becomes playfully light, as cosmic heights are reached and all sort of sorrow or burden is left behind. It seems that we succeeded in fleeing the suffering brought to earth by the insects.
This track is a masterpiece of songwriting and composition, showing in great detail that Medeia know exactly what they are doing. Maybe my interpretations are far of from the intended storylines, the used language is consistent throughout the song though, every word seemingly handpicked for its very purpose.
- Nectar Of The Gods – Having reached space in Ascension, the listener drifts to the burning god, the sun. Thanks to a coincidence on a cosmic level it seems that mankind was able to originate, arise, evolve and ultimately rule the creation. The suns position as a central part of these coincidental circumstances is cursed in the song. The evil, dooming sound profile combined with fast rhythms and leads trigger an emotional mixture of anxiety, antipathy and awe towards this burning god.
Note, that there is also a certain similarity to the hubris of Icarus, the fate of those always wanting more to inevitably fly into the sun and get burned in their own insatiability. This thought would also suggest, that the creation of the insects is actually a metaphor for mankind outgrowing its own limits of existence in its constant defiance of nature.
- Xenosis – The title track of the album opens with a roaring and humming sound, which seemingly is no longer to be heard but to be felt. Breaking through this noise are some hard, fast drum rhythms and an electrically stuttering, long scream. Not only does this intro give me goosebumps literally every time I listen to it, but also is the overall melody and rhythm quite catchy.
- All That’s Left – One last track to talk about and this is pretty much All That’s Left. Using more electric effects in all of the song, this one seems to be revealing a facet, we did not encounter in the album up until now yet. Electric drums, a synthesizer effect on the guitar (at least in the intro) and atmospherical choir sounds on the keyboards make this song somewhat different. The outro is special in a similar manner as it uses a heavy electrified breathing noise and echoing effects to build up the feel of floating through the cold space instead of utilizing the instrumental means to do so.
According to the official band website, Xenosis is installed as "the prologue to Medeia's album trilogy". Long-year fans can take a look beyond what they've heard up until now, whereas new fans will have the exact right starting point, to listen to all the Medeia albums in order. I'd recommend each and every fan of a diverse, brutal and complex sound to give a listen to them. The evolution Medeia went through in the last few years does not only show that they have a lot of potentials but also proves that they possess the ability to use them. I don't intend on pushing the band out of their role of a successful underground band, but Medeia definitely has the talent to become huge.