(All Album Reviews by Reginod)
Ever see Stephen King's The Stand? I'm referring to the made-for-television ABC miniseries that aired in the early 1990s. Two factions, one for good and one for evil, fought for control of a devastated post-plague United States. The bad guys, led by the devil-incarnate Flagg, were holed up in - surprise! - Sin City itself, none other than Las Vegas. All the thieves and liars, cops-on-the-take, crooks, hookers, hustlers, pimps, pushers, and misguided dregs of humanity in general made up the population of the city as they prepared for the final confrontation with the good guys.
I believe that I've found the band that coulda, shoulda been Flagg's house band in evil ol' Vegas. XCentrik hails from Copenhagen, but judging from their 2007 release Welcome To The War, they could just as easily have come from the L.A./West Coast modern metal scene of the 1990s and beyond.
Besides the fantastical Vegas scenario, XCentrik could have fit like a glove on the soundtrack to the film Heavy Metal. Therein lies the band's biggest contradiction, and the razor's edge upon which they exist: are they more well-suited for a satirical, Dethklok-style cartoon soundtrack, or is there something more serious and substantial underneath their surprisingly accessible yet somehow sinfully menacing hybrid of metal and modern rock?
No doubt it's a bit much to attach such gravitas to XCentrik at this point. After all, they're only human: a trio of determined young Danes who describe their music as "Heavy Mental," and who found the means to build their own studio so that they could practice their craft without undue outside interference.
At this point their craft includes killer riffs, and plenty of them! The opening title track bids the listener welcome with a simple, insistent chugga-chugga-chugga, and guitarist-vocalist-principal songwriter Jan Weincke sings in a rather thick-voiced, perverse fashion. It might dissuade some listeners, yet the vocal delivery seems overtly tongue-in-cheek, aimed at the inequalities of life in modern western society: "Would you not be compelled to agree/ the balance of wealth is a sheer parody/ how can you act surprised/ when the world you despise reaches out/ and strikes back at you."
"Domino" continues the killer riff-party, as do "Gertrudestein" and "Spinning," but there is more to this collection of tunes than headbanging frenzy. The ominous quasi-rap of "Sweet Idol" could pass as a less jazzy nod to Steely Dan, but Weincke seems more sardonic and cynical than Donald Fagen himself, taking aim at the wastefulness of affluent stardom: "I'm gonna set you on fire/ gonna make you burn/ I'm gonna see that you pay/ for every nickel I earn/ And somewhere down the line/ I might depend on you/ But hey you're just the public/ it's like you don't have a clue."
In general, all the lyrics on Welcome To The War have the same generally pessimistic and cynical bent. (Jon Anderson definitely wasn't in the room the day XCentrik's pen was put to paper, that's for sure!) But the vocals fit perfectly with the music; the general focus is on succinct song structures and tight playing between Weincke and his bandmates: bassist Neils W. Knudsen co-wrote four out of the nine tunes presented here, while the singly-monikered Valentino was seated at the drum kit. Although Weincke lays down some solo guitar lines in a few places, there are never any wasted notes from any one of the trio.
Random electronic treatments are peppered throughout the album, but the band is listed on the credits for providing "electronics and ulterior motives." Indeed, a cloudy bed of keys is central to the allure of "Fabulous Machine," which turns out to be one of the album's best tracks.
But the whole thing is pretty darned good. Actually, this album is probably much better than it should be, thanks in part to the band's decision to refrain from overplaying, and in equal part to the album's LP-like brevity. The whole is just over 42 minutes, which is enough time for XCentrik to state their case and leave the listener guessing, and hopefully wanting more.
I'm skeptical that Welcome To The War would qualify as a big attraction to, say, the average progressive rock audience. It only has a few touches that could, in a very broad sense, fit the progressive mold. Actually that's a good thing, as the general prog ethic would probably be a bit too confining for what XCentrik seem to be trying to do.
On the positive side, I'd easily and highly recommend this album for anyone who would like to hear a better-than-average amalgam of play-it-LOUD metal and modern rock, with a few funky and spacy twists woven in for good measure. What does XCentrik have left up their sleeve? Let's hope we get a chance to find out.