Sound: Xerath are one of the "torch bearers" (or not, considering their popularity) for this current wave of "djent" bands. Although a fairly new band on the scene, they are also one of the more productive (2 albums, where as most other djent bands have only 1) and original acts. Let me emphasize original.
To describe their sound isn't a difficult action: A very odd hybrid of Meshuggah/Textures style technical groove metal, Devin Townsendy production/composition and a huge love of orchestral cinematic score music. The difficult thing is probably taking it in, because right off the bat, this album is EPIC in the truest sense of the word.
Compared to their dbut album (which was my first and very worst review on this site, I think), "II" is at first listen a huge revision of their original sound. Gone are the somewhat annoying "death-barks", no longer do the guitars mundanely follow the bass drums like every other djent band and add some extra cream to a tasty looking cake, there is more clean singing. When seen next to "I" (dbut), the guitars, bass and percussion has improved dramatically. Instead of single note chugga-chugga rhythms, a rather huge range of distinctive riff styles can be heard, ranging from Lamb Of God (trust me, these are good riffs, such as on the song "Reform Part III") to Dream Theater, SYL and the aforementioned Textures and even a few death/black metal tremolos (the song "Enemy Incited Armageddon" is an almost pure death metal song). The drumming is now a lot easier to follow: On "I", every single pattern was a polymetric structure that included every bit of the drum kit and made the only listenable sound the hi-hat/crash. Now though, the songs are much easier to follow due to the use of 4/4 snare, although a lot of the rhythms are still mind-boggling or fascinating to say the least. These changes are because the new album includes an almost entirely new line-up and hence a direct change in the sound (not forgetting a little guest appearance from Emil Werstler from Daath).
I actually want to get back onto the riffs again. By hell, are there a lot of them. The best showcase for riffs is the song "Machine Insurgency", containing funky-as-hell grooves and almost needlessly epic thrash-chug riffs (Misha Mansoor would cry).
Production is also note-worthy: Noticeably reverb-heavy instruments, lots of multi-tracking and layering, a bit of processing on the guitars from some cleanliness, every thing sounds big and full and properly enriched. When I listen to the sound coming from this album and then listen to the dbut, they almost sound like they're recorded by totally different bands. // 9
Lyrics: Xerath's vocalist, Rich, had a very... interesting approach to metal vox on the dbut. They were a cross between Eric Kalsbeek (Textures) and someone with a hole in their neck. It didn't entirely suit the sound of Xerath. Thankfully he's ditched the growl almost entirely, exchanging it for a Devin Townsend-esque scream that somehow just works into the sound better, probably because overall its a very Devin-ish record. The clean vocals are surprisingly unique and frequent, although the mix somewhat drowns them out yet they're still audible.
Lyrically, Xerath almost solely focus on varying types of man-made apocalypse and struggling humanity. Its part of a mini-storyline that continued from their dbut and it really has some interesting reading material. // 8
Overall Impression: Xerath have really kick-started their career with two exceptionally unique albums under their belt and a dedicated fanbase to back them. Although they're not as accessible as leading contemporaries Periphery or TesseracT, they have a total command over their own sound and "II" shows that they're most definitely not slowing down any time soon.
Songs to look out for: "Unite To Defy", "Reform Part III", "Machine Insurgency", "God Of The Frontlines", "Nuclear Self-Eradication", "Numbered Among The Dead", "The Glorious Death".