XIII - 'Deeds Of The Saints' EP Review

XIII  ‘Deeds of the Saints: Chapters I-V’

Review by: Mike Sheriff

They like their roman numerals this lot, don’t they! ‘Deeds of the Saints: Chapters I-V’ is the first in a two-part split EP from Hull based veteran metallers XIII. The band have been around long enough by now to have a few deals with the devil and after releasing North of Nowhere in summer 2012, they've been away and created this latest instalment of their own particular brand.

There’s been a fair amount of hype surrounding Deeds of the Saints, since writing the new material over the past year, the band have worked a few of the songs into their live sets. It’s instantly recognisable which of their tracks are new and which ones are old classics, even for the untrained ear. They've taken on a much more melodic and mature sound for this EP, its not so much of a change that an existing fan would feel alienated, not by a long stretch. But it is enough to bounce off of the much simpler North of Nowhere, into new and exciting territory.

Deeds is an EP that many would say hits like a hammer blow, but not myself. XIII have always had a certain power to their sound, this is undeniable. But Deeds feels more focused than simply bringing the building down. It’s almost like swapping out a wrecking ball for perfectly placed TNT, well thought out and more efficient. And I’d say that leads to an even more exciting end result.

There are several niggles that are impossible for me to ignore however, in many sections the guitar is overpowering in the mix and it dominates the drums and bass in a way that doesn’t lend credence to its dynamics. When mixing metal, it can be very easy to tip the scale just the wrong side of guitar heavy because they’re a ‘meat and tateys instrument’; but in the more eerie sections the balance is almost perfect.
Another aspect I feel could have been improved upon was the Bass Guitar, when it does poke through; it’s with a borderline exquisite tone. But it’s fairly quiet in the mix and could have done with a bit more attention spent upon it to bring it to life. Not in terms of production, but in terms of material. Good bass lines are as important to a song as good vocals are, they’re something that’s often easily overlooked in metal today which is a shame, because they can lift a song to heady new heights that couldn't otherwise be reached. I’d have expected a little more in this department to say the band have been playing together for a number of years now.

Maturing as a band is one thing, but maturing as an individual player is a whole new kettle of fish. Frontman Dan has audibly grown as a musician in the last 12 months, his solo work has improved greatly, giving more body to them and fleshing out the record.  But the chuggy guitar sound; especially when left on its own is a little boxy and could still use some work. Even the finest guitars and head units will sound crappy when ran through cardboard speaker cabs.  His signature rabid vocal technique has also progressed; you can almost envision him frothing at the mouth in the studio, a visage the producer has managed to capture very well in sound.

Deeds is a 5 track EP, but it has a run time of some full length albums. This is down to each song being around 6-7 minutes, something usually only reserved for fret-wankers and prog monkeys. I’m not usually a fan of songs lasting any longer than around 5 minutes and studies show that the average attention span of someone to an unknown song is only 3 and a half minutes. But surprisingly, the tracks don’t get boring. There’s significant enough repetition to hook you in, but there’s also enough diversity to keep things fresh, it’s a hard balance to get right and something many other metal bands could do with improving upon.
The record kicks off with ‘We are Everywhere’, a chunky guitar riff punches its way through the airwaves and opens the door with a bang. It builds into a slightly melodic riff that if the song were written by last years band almost certainly wouldn’t be in there.  After a few verses and choruses it switches up into a breakdown, which is unfortunately where the boxiness of the guitar is at its most audible, but it is a catchy section, without a doubt. As the 7 minute song comes to a close, Dan treats us to a fine guitar solo that keeps the track ticking over with fresh vibes, followed by a solo/lead line hybrid that can only be described as sinister in nature.

The end of ‘We are Everywhere’ powers us into my second favourite piece on the record ‘Narcotics’, I’ve heard this catchy, thrashy track live a few times and it’s one of XIIIs strongest numbers. In a few sections, there is trem picked guitar work overlayed with slower, less hurried vocals, it’s an interesting mix that I’m quite fond of. Mid way through the song it breaks to a clean section with some exquisite bass work from Mr. Oxtoby; one of the very limited sections on the record where we can hear him playing, which is a shame. This is overlayed with a very bluesy guitar solo where you can certainly hear the influences of the band have changed.

‘Acta Sanctorum’ starts up quite differently than its two previous brethren, it almost reminds me of an old muscle car straining to start on the ignition, but then firing up and burbling with that signature V8 rumble, then as the song builds up and gains momentum the car rolls off from the drive. ‘Acta Sanctorum’ has just been released as a single and video by the band and is clearly one of their favourites. I do like the track myself, but I think its not the best on the EP it falls short of ‘Narcotics’ and one yet to be mentioned.

Alex’s talents on the drums have always been a focal point of XIII and there’s no shortage of flamboyant rage on the ‘skins in Deeds. But yet again, like the entire composition it feels purposeful and directed at where it should be and they hit the target in a way North of Nowhere’s couldn't.

There are definite blues influences throughout Deeds of the Saints, in certain sections the groove changes radically and the piece becomes an all together more fearsome monster. It’s simply a result of each member of the band working hard at improving their ear, which shows. The overall sound is direct and powerful, with it sounding almost like Dan is standing directly in front of you, screaming on the end of your nose.

‘Deliverance’ shares several similarities with ‘Narcotics’ both are fast and quite thrashy, but ‘Deliverance’ less so, it’s a more modern sounding song than its earlier brother. There aren’t any bad tracks on Deeds, but this is certainly the weakest of the five songs. I did find my attention waining to it towards the end of the song and I think it could have undoubtedly benefited from some fresher ideas being thrown into the mix. It’s more of a vintage XIII sound than the rest of the EP and it does tie ‘Deeds of the Saints’ in quite well with its predecessor ‘North of Nowhere’.

The EP finishes with its masterpiece, ‘Nothing is True... Everything is Permitted’. It’s the fiercest song on the EP by quite a stretch and though songs like ‘Narcotics’ are good, ‘Nothing is True’ is excellent. The main riff is chin juttingly catchy, but also the overdubbed guitar chords played over it are ethereal and add a whole new field of dimension to it. The chorus is one of the best pieces of metal composition I’ve heard this year, in all honesty. The piano played for the outro is hauntingly beautiful and was a genuine shock when it came through the monitors; it displays a different side the record that I didn’t expect to see, and I only wish it had been played for a few more bars.

Rating: \m/\m/\m/\m/\n

Deeds of the Saints is released on 15/11/2013 at Blue Lamp, Hull.