Xaon are about to release this recording in just a couple of days, which is their very first EP offering. I know very little about these guys, and the leaflet I have here sounds like it was copied via a hook translator for a Japanese visual novel. Good thing I can decipher some of this. In any case, it (seems) that Xaon are influenced by nineties era Anathema, My Dying Bride, Disgrace, Paradise Lost, Type O Negative, Ulver, Soilwork and Demonical among others; even though I can scarcely even a catch a glimpse from most of these acts in the music being presented here. For a band that seems so closely tied to dreary soundscapes, I'm hearing very little of that. As a matter of fact, the Soilwork and Chimera influence seems to be a bit stronger here. That leads me to the problem as well – the vocals seem to follow along a gut-punch sort of hardcore style that just works as a bit of a turn-off for me. If I was given the choice today to wake up in a completely different dimension where the gut-punch style vocal had never been invented by hardcore and would never be invented for the span of mankind's existence, I would take that option right now. I just don't care for these throat-saver vocals, which sound to me like a scraping of the vocal chords. It's not catchy to me and sounds very adolescent. Pre-pubescent, actually.
That being said, Vinc (Ever Since) and Flo (Ever Since, Calcined, Serpens Luminis, Erzebeth Dane) actually have a strong grasp on musicianship here. Bjorn Strid (Soilwork) actually guests on “Decrowned” which is one of my favorite songs here, and his vocals actually fit within their compositions. I actually kind of like the harsh vocal point that comes right after Strid sings “I was looking for the face of Balaam” which utters, “But I only found his reflection!” Now this actually makes me want to find out who in the hell Balaam is. I'm either thinking some sort of ancient god or a daemon/djinn. It could also be some sort of Indian deity. I really have no clue, so check it out yourself! (Google = Library Of Alexandria 2.0) I also need to mention that the clean vocals are very strong here. I might be able to growl far better, but this guy can certainly sing much better than I can. (Unless you want to hear what sounds like a whipped choir boy.)
Since we have such a powerful clean vocal effort here, I tend to not mind the gut-punch segments so much. Also, the music in general is a little too cleaned up for hardcore fans, which made me think of earlier Chimaira, which I think metal fans can find at least one good album from of they looked hard enough. Adding to that are some wondrous melody lines as well as the all expectant solo, which is all quite befitting of the genre. Face Of Balaam is a heavy record for sure, but there's enough melody and clean singing here to appeal to fans of traditional Swedish melodeath, or should we say more modern Swedish melodeath, as neither In Flames nor Soilwork, nor Dark Tranquillity adapted clean vocals until much later. Give or take, two of those bands succeeded where the other failed in their attempt. Shame. I'd probably have gotten into this record a little more if there was a bit more gravel in the vocal area, but it's still worth recommending in my book, and it stands as a rather solid effort. Xaon are a new band and this marks their break into the heavy metal scene. You can certainly come off much worse this early in the game. I'm looking forward to their next output.
(5 Tracks, 26:00)