Xerxes – Our Home is a Deathbed
Record Label: No Sleep Records
Release Date: March 13, 2012
There is one feeling none of us have the power to control: it is the simplicity of love. Love is a word that has been stretched to mean a lot of things on a lot of levels. There's love that exists between a parental unit and their children, an attachment to a pet or the one countless records are written about: that sappy feeling we can't avoid that exists in the pits of our stomach and shows up as unannounced as a sudden common cold. Sometimes it's hard to explain and other times we can go on for hours. At 25, I'm still unsure what part of it we struggle with the most, but the common core to all of it is certainly the attachment between two parties. There are many ups and downs that exist when we get entangled in the moments that we share, but one moment that all of us will tend to keep to ourselves is the moment where it's all in our head - our sleep, dreams and vivid reels of scenes that never actually take place outside our minds.
Listening to Xerxes debut full length can be hard at times because of the above sentiments. Honestly, I have no problem admitting that, just as you shouldn't either, because we're all human and we all feel that staple to our chests at one point in our lives on some level. Vocalist Calvin Philley's throat ends up exhausting a lot anguish in trying to connect to a special someone. Our Home is a Deathbed runs the gambit of confusion, anxiety and frustration in under a 30 minute run time, and the band carries along the lyrical depression with their ability to not always be harsh in their delivery. In fact, the biggest surprise for many with Xerxes' debut full length is how melodic most of the record comes off. After the opening intro of "Wake," the brutality of "Sleep" is an angry open letter. It's blunt, to the point and grabs hold in under a minute. "February" is another quick burner of relentless frustration, only letting up for a mere second before its blistering final run. And that's really the only two quick hits of the record.
Take out Philley's intense vocals on "Summer Storms/Winter Leaves" or "Suburban Asphalt" and you're left with some of the best melodic blends of guitar and mid-tempo in the contemporary hardcore genre. It's very reminiscent of last decade's early years of texture and melody weaved throughout guitar lines and well-paced, well-controlled drumming patterns. "Fever Dream" builds up to only wind down. There's no standout moment - just a well paced flow. It's "Funeral Home" that really sticks out from the rest of the record. I've been hearing others saying they've mistaken it for a Touche Amore track, but I found the slow burner more reminiscent of the brooding terror of some of Deathwish Inc's back catalog. It's the first track that caught me off guard from the rest of the flow of the album upon first listen. It's also the song the best exemplifies Xerxes' attempts at crafting something that's once again prominent in hardcore: bands are writing songs that flow as "pieces" rather than "pay-offs." Just as we weep at the build up of a breakdown as there is a majority vote of acceptance somehow for that still, bands like Xerxes, Caravels and Pianos Become the Teeth are moving into post-rock territories of shifting melodies and more subtle crescendos that don't always involve a palm mute, but the adding and removing of layers as the songs inhale and exhale notes while the tracks bloom and die.
My first listen of Xerxes' Our Home is a Deathbed wasn't memorable. My second wasn't either. By the third time - and more so when following the unconscious, dreamlike story flow of trying to cope with loss and longing - I began to peel back the layers of what Xerxes went for on their first big step of setting themselves apart from the rest of whatever every other band are working to catch onto in the current hardcore scene that's certainly staking a claim among the masses as of late. "our city is a floodplain" and "Tide/This Place as a Prison" are two tracks that fall into the "whatever" that's happening right now, but it doesn't damage the rest of Our Home is a Deathbed either - in fact, the tracks only enhance how much talent the rest of the album has to offer. When the record closes out with the title track, we're left with sort of an out of place ending a la "1100" or "(And It's Sometimes Like It Will Never End)" - and that's the brightest red flag on the album. Xerxes tried setting themselves apart from their contemporaries and friends, and it paid off. Now we just have to see how many people notice or simply choose to continue to blindly ride the wave of what's now deemed acceptable by some. Our Home is a Deathbed is not only a vulnerable record lyrically, but also for its time and place in the current hardcore scene as well.