When it comes to technical death metal there are a variety of approaches, and while some are seemingly concocted to break records for highest BPM or notes-per-second, others take an alternate route. Devangelic fall in the latter category by balancing skill with groove and finding the ability to douse the listener in riffs and atmosphere at the same time. After several full-lengths and the warm reception to 2020’s Ersetu, these Italian stalwarts are back with another full-length album, delving into themes of Lovecraftian lore, Mesopotamian gods, and more.
Aside from being students of global mythology, Devangelic are clearly apt pupils of the inner workings of death metal and how to balance riffs with respite to make an album that thrives on ordered chaos while still being digestible. One of the primary wins for Xul is just how it knows when to inhale, and while these moments are brief, they are exceedingly welcome and timed perfectly. Acoustic interludes can be passé if not handled correctly, but Devangelic achieve the right tone and atmosphere each time they approach such a track so as to provide both a rest and a tension that keeps Xul primed for the next pummeling. And pummel it does.
Devangelic have been honing their tech death machine for years and that effort shows on Xul. From the opening and overwhelming “Scribes of Xul” it’s obvious that this band is firing on every cylinder and maybe even added some extra cylinders to fire on. Marco Coghe’s drumming is some of the best in the genre and this album continues this trend with no signs of change. The snare is snappy, double-bass is furious, and the cymbal work is beyond noteworthy. While the drums can certainly take center stage on a record like this, the guitar work and bass lines are potent and complimentary. There are also nice little touches along with additional sound effects and vocalization—as featured in “Sirius, Draconis, Capricornus”—which round out the atmosphere and give Xul a flavor all its own. The production by Stefano Morabito is suffocating and perfect for Devangelic as it feels overwhelming without being simply noisy.
With ten songs and a runtime hovering around 40-minutes, Xul can be a lot to digest, but as noted before this is a balanced album that knows when to let off the gas just enough to make the next throttling be just as exciting as the previous. That being said, there are times when this album can feel overwhelming and perhaps subtracting a song or two from the tracklist to get this closer to thirty-minutes would have made this album feel more accessible and left the listener wanting a little more. As with all extreme music, sustaining interest is an important part of album composition and Devangelic and company get this mostly right.
Technical death metal in the vein of classic Cryptopsy is a space with some genuine standout bands and over the last few years Devangelic have been clawing their way towards the top of that heap. Vocalist Paolo Chiti has a whole arsenal of tricks and styles at his disposal and plenty of them are put on display across Xul and while there’s not a single metric by which to base a band’s success, having a talented vocalist is never a detriment. Just listen to “Udug-Hul Incantation” to get a glimpse at his flexibility. There’s so much to love about what this band has going on and while there are things the band could focus on more - like varying tempos, because that works so well for them - Xul is an album that shouldn’t be missed by fans of the genre.
Bottom Line: There are few bands with the skill that Devangelic has, and that is put to great use on this monster tech death album. Angular riffs that flow effortlessly into each other, top-tier drumming, and vocals and bass that both compliment and stand out in equal parts—there’s zero bad music on Xul. A little trimming and a little more variety in song structure could have made this album one to go back to more often, but there’s no denying that this will be one of the highlights in the genre for a while. Devangelic are gaining momentum and Xul is adding to that inertia.