Folk metal is a genre with firm roots in the past. From bands like Arkona to Korpiklaani, the genre pays tributes to the origins of music in ancient festivals, pagan deities, and classical instruments. Many folk metal bands also hail from eastern Europe and Scandinavia, though not all of them do. North Carolina-based Xael enters the fray offering a combination of traditional folk metal themes with science-fiction concepts. Xael is the latest musical project of Joshua Morse. The Last Arbiter is a science fiction story about an entity known, among other things, as the sky ghost. The sky ghost wanders the cosmos searching for a purpose, and we join him just after his audience with the ruling counsel of a planet. There are a lot of comparisons with older bands to be made here, because Xael draws upon a diverse and rich legacy and gives it a new and powerful twist.
Our story begins with the titular track, “The Last Arbiter”. It is at this point we begin following the sky ghost, as it wanders into the wastelands of Tymeer. The song itself starts with a combination of guitar, blasting drumbeat, and stringed instruments before catapulting into an absolute wall of sound. It’s apparent from the outset that Xael has more in common with heavier songs from bands like Arkona than the softer parts of the genre, but they fit in perfectly here. The low growled vocals match perfectly with the intensity of the instruments. The song alternates between slower sections with clean vocals and blasting screamed segments in a way that recalls Dimmu Borgir’s work in the last half of the 2000’s. The synths, ever-present behind the heavier parts of the song, lend to this impression, but it is definitely a good thing. The guitar solos feel almost maniacal when paired with the rest of the song. Xael did well in pulling their long-time drummer, Josh “Nassaru” Ward as their vocalist. His diverse range is exactly what this album needs.