Ex Eye - Ex Eye
Prog, Jazz
5 songs (48:28)
Release year: 2017
Bandcamp, Relapse
Reviewed by Goat
Surprise of the month

It's interesting, when you get bands that genuinely push boundaries, to read closely what their record labels say about them. Relapse don't trail Ex Eye as a mixture of metal and jazz, as other reviews have been quick to label them, but instead talk more vaguely of "power, control, motion and intention" and music that is "hard, heavy… cathartic and thrilling." Which, in fairness, is more accurate, as calling this 'jazz metal' misses the mark a little. Combining the two is difficult enough that it rarely happens; 'jazz metal' suggests metal with a jazz infusion, which Ex Eye is not. More accurate would be to call this a kind of modern jazz fusion with a range of influences from post-rock to black metal. Each track here is distinct and individual, making it a range of pieces rather than an album full of interlinked songs, and as heavy as it can be there's no denying that this is closer to jazz than metal. Still, those with an ear for the unusual will find much to like here; there have definitely been stranger things reviewed on this site!

Something of a supergroup, Ex Eye consist of experimental saxophonist Colin Stetson, Greg Fox (Liturgy) on drums, Shahzad Ismaily (Secret Chiefs 3) on synths, and guitarist Toby Summerfield. There are no vocals, which will come as a surprise after hearing opening stomper Xenolith; the Anvil (the music video for which is below), those strange wails later in the track the work of Stetson's sax rather than a human voice. This is probably closest to a traditional rock song, driven by guitar and synth and with the closest thing to hooks present in the riffs. Each instrument is in its own little world, playing a technical yet melodic sort of prog rock, and despite the track being short at just under four minutes it makes for a good introduction to the band. The following Opposition/Perihelion; the Coil throws you in the deep end with a tetchy, technical opening leading through a galloping prog-gasm that wanders through melodic, otherworldly soundscapes, ranging from nearly pleasant to dark and foreboding, drums doing everything from simple backing to near blackened blasts. It's more like some Hawkwind experiment than, say, your traditional 60s bopper, those whooshing effects having quite the psychedelic feel, but thanks to the sax which does everything from those aforementioned eerie moans to blasts of riff-esque noise, it feels like nothing else.

The album gets stranger after that, Anaitis Hymnal; the Arkose Disc opening with ambient groans and building in an oddly beautiful piece of post-rock before a more chaotic clattering approaches and the beauty turns ugly. There's less structure, the saxophone becoming a shimmering drone that continues onto Form Constant; the Grid, again coming close to black metal with blasting drums supporting the other instruments as they swell in an almost orchestral manner, albeit more akin to, eg, Krallice than traditional black metal. And finale Tten Crowns; the Corrupter is the loosest and most demented piece here, closer to free jazz with seeming little structure or reason, before settling into a slowing riff and turning into a doom metal piece to complete the album! Each piece is a grower; I've gone from being bored to loving each over many listens and while I'm hardly an authority on jazz, that I've seen this album in 'best jazz albums of the year' pieces elsewhere suggests even the pros are impressed. Perhaps not for every metalhead, but as an entryway into the weird and wonderful world of jazz you could do much worse, and I hope that Ex Eye have more to say about their own little subgenre, whatever it is.

Killing Songs :
Xenolith; the Anvil, Opposition/Perihelion; the Coil
Goat quoted 80 / 100
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