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Jex Thoth - "Jex Thoth" (CD)

Jex Thoth - "Jex Thoth" CD cover image

"Jex Thoth" track listing:

1. Nothing Left To Die
2. The Banishment
3. Obsidian Night
4. Seperated At Birth
5. Son of Yule
6. Warrior Woman
7. Equinox Suite Part A: The Poison Pit
8. Equinox Suite Part B: Thawing Magus
9. Equinox Suite Part C: Invocation Part 1
10. Equinox Suite Part D: The Damned and Divine
11. When The Raven Calls
12. Stone Evil

Reviewed by on June 26, 2009

"At times folky, sometimes progressive, oft-times downbeat, Jex Thoth is a band that at all times maintains an atmosphere of haunting melancholy."

This review has been months (more?) in the making. I still don’t know quite what to say about this album. I am fairly new to the doom metal genre (oh, to have more time for lifes’ pleasures), and Jex Thoth – previously known as Totem, now named for the band’s vocalist - has been exceedingly difficult for me to get my head around. At times folky, sometimes progressive, oft-times downbeat, Jex Thoth is a band that at all times maintains an atmosphere of haunting melancholy. The guitar production is both crunchy and muddy, layering an eclectic lead over a miserable yet driven bass rhythm.

I am a huge fan of albums that carry a theme from song to song, not just lyrically, but in the musicianship also. Some might call such cases concept albums, and in some cases they would be right. "Jex Thoth" is not a concept album, however it does have a strong sense of carry-on from song to song. That is not to say that each song sounds exactly the same; the rhythms and so on definitely change and each song is a song unto itself. But each song also flows flawlessly into the next, creating a listening experience that stretches far further than the stand-out-tracks style of typical, radio-friendly music.

Once the album starts, and you are drawn into it, you will not feel the need to skip songs. The downside of this, of course, is that unless you really love this album a lot, it also doesn’t have any particularly catchy stand-out tracks that will make you play it over some other disc in your library. It’s a toss of the coin; on one side, you have a few great tracks that will get played to death while on the other side, is a great album that will probably get played rarely. Personally, I prefer the latter for my serious taste music, and the former for my fun, piss-up-with-the-mates music.

Let me try to explain to you how this album actually sounds. I’ve already mentioned an atmosphere of haunting melancholy, and I think this could be considered typical of doom metal in general. Because of the aforementioned flow-on effect of the songs on this album, it is difficult for me to pick my favourite tracks, and thus difficult to break down what I like and don’t like, track by track. Instead, we’ll try looking at the general sound of the album as a whole. "Jex Thoth" is an album clearly based on the blues scale, though you would have a hard time convincing your average country hick of that. It’s kind of like a slowed-down Black Sabbath with an evil Enya cross Reznor (on his lighter songs) crooning you into a familiar yet xenophobic nightmare. Hard to imagine? Try explaining it.

If you’re a thrash enthusiast, you won’t find any blistering solo’s here, and the riffs don’t burst into their own ground; rather, they are given it, with each instrument having its turn to work with, work for, and to garner attention. This does not mean the sound is boring, though – far from it. There is a lot of emotion on this record, much of it drudgery, but it’s that special kind of drudgery that maintains itself even while it reaches for something higher, something hopeful, something more enlightened. Like much of doom metal, Jex Thoth does not leave the instrumentation to merely drums and guitars. On this album you will hear, and note, keyboards and synthesizers (which provide much of the effects) as well as the bouzouki, an organ, and flutes. As you can see, the folk sound and retro ideology is not lost on this band. Together, all these elements work to create an almost soundtrack-like air that is at once warm and fuzzy and overcast. I’m not sure you could call Jex Thoth progressive, but if they are psychedelic (and they definitely can be), then they are the morning after the trip; the slow, lethargic come-down. It’s like Led Zeppelin without the attitude, or a somehow less euphoric Pink Floyd.

At this point I would normally waste a paragraph of your life discussing the pitfalls of female vocalists in the metal genre (it’s a personal thing, just doesn’t seem to agree with me). However, there are the rare few exceptions; Arch Enemy, for one. While the vocalist of Jex Thoth is in absolutely no way similar to Angela Gossow, stylistically speaking, she provides a surprising addition to the list of exceptions to the rule. I can’t explain what it is, but I like my metal to be sung by men. Even with progressive metal I would prefer a man with a high-octave range over a woman. Now, if Jex Thoth were to have a male vocalist, it might – depending on that particular vocalist – just work. However, they would no longer be the band they are; their sound, with a male vocalist, would be entirely different, regardless of musicianship. And the frank, bewildering truth is – well, damnit, this band just works impeccably as is. The sound and voice are so well suited to one another that it is actually unbearable to imagine Jex Thoth being any other way than as they currently are. It has not been a simple matter for me to come to terms with this. It is, however, an uncommon occurrence indeed when an outfit is in complete synchronicity and mutual symbiosis with its separate parts. I have no other recourse but to applaud.

Highs: A thoroughly well-produced, well played album. Great atmosphere from a wide range of instruments creating an unobtrusive sound that seems to be simultaneously timeless and familiar while exploring new heights.

Lows: I'd have liked to see an epic 15 minute song in the mix – unfortunately the longest track here is 6 minutes. Though it is a great album, it doesn’t have much replay potential, and will be underrated by most due to a lack of stand-out tracks.

Bottom line: If you like early 70’s or folk-type stuff I doubt you'd regret giving Jex Thoth a spin.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)