Colin Stetson, a fantastic saxophone player, came into prominence due to his collaboration with various indie rock bands, in the likes of Arcade Fire and Bon Iver. However, his interests lie further away from the confinements of indie rock, and into the experimental realm, where jazz, avant-garde and experimental music meet. He has been quite busy in 2017, releasing his excellent solo work, All This I Do For Glory, and also diving into extreme metal with his new project Ex Eye. Given the technical aptitude of Stetson, it is no surprise that the other members of Ex Eye would share the same versatility in their playing, and a similar experimental mindset. Surrounded by Greg Fox (Liturgy) on drums, Shahzad Ismaily (Secret Chiefs 3) on synths and Toby Summerfield on guitars, Ex Eye set out to explore the extents of the experimental found in extreme metal.
The first seconds of the album, in the opening track, “Xenolith; The Anvil” suggest a strange ride. Instead of the expected chaos, of free jazz-metal fury, the greeting is tilted more towards a modern interpretation of prog rock, and even verging towards post-rock at times. The rhythm section and progression are slightly reminiscent of Tool and that clockwork approach when it comes to precision, while the melodic elements display a similarity with the cleaner moments of Isis. But, this is all just one of the many facades that Ex Eye has at its disposal, and it acts more as a transition to what it is to follow.
The multiplicity of Ex Eye then begins to expand. Moving into a math rock setting, the tempo is speeding up, the playing becomes more intense and complex, resulting in a faster paced, more aggressive approach, closer to the math rock of the late '80s, with a touch of Naked City, without however going completely bonkers. But, that extremity is further pushed, the math rock motifs go into full blown mathcore moments in “Opposition/Perihelion; The Coil,” which in turn split to hellish grind in “Anaitis Hymnal; The Arkose Disc,” even moving towards the textural post-black metal forms.
This more extravagant approach is just but one side of Ex Eye still. Moving away from the extreme, the band tends towards the hazy and moody, encapsulating a darker jazz aspect, merged with a psychedelic soundscape. The manner in which this occurs in “Anaitis Hymnal; The Arkose Disc” is especially well crafted, providing an excellent change of pace, and expanding the scope of Ex Eye. “Form Constant; The Grid” completes this thematic cycle, creating a spiraling recital of downtempo, heavy experimental music.
What stands out from all this is the ability of Ex Eye to move in and out of consciousness. From one moment to the next, they can leave behind the extreme and technical, and move into a drone abstract space. It is a result of the versatility of the players, and the constant force that is Stetson's performance. Playing both bass and alto sax on the album, he is able to take up a space usually reserved for the guitars in metal releases, and completely alter the listener's perception. The expressiveness of his playing enriches the work, ranging from the dissonant and oppressive to the melodic and soothing, acting as a harsh siren, or as a hallucinogenic entity depending on the circumstances.
The synthesizers of Ismaily craft the background, surrounding the towering rhythm section helmed by Fox and the motifs of Summerfield, working all with the same breath and pacing as one. And that is why what Ex Eye does comes with a very artful touch. Even with the record being experimental and heavy, moving through different moods and presenting so many diverse sides, it works as a more direct version to works by John Zorn or Mike Patton and Mr. Bungle. It is a gateway towards the more extreme, a connecting tissue that allows a linear progression into the complete chaos of the scene.
8.0 / 10
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