Avant-garde Metal • United States
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Ex Eye is an avant-garde metal / progressive metal band from New York City in New York.

Ex Eye melds atmospheric sludge metal and post-rock with free jazz. The band released its debut album in 2017 on Relapse Records.
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EX EYE Ex Eye album cover 3.44 | 8 ratings
Ex Eye
Avant-garde Metal 2017

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Album · 2017 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
siLLy puPPy
Post-rock? Post-metal? Post-jazz? or Post-psychedelia? Well, all of the above actually. EX EYE is a new kid on the block and making a whole lot of noise without resorting to cliche been-there done-that retro worship. This quartet of seasoned veterans formed in New York City consists of alto and bass saxophonist Colin Stetson ( Eternal Buzz Brass Band, The Sway Machinery, Transmission Trio ), guitarist Toby Summerfield ( Algernon, Crush Kill Destroy, Never Enough Hope ), synthesizer wizard Shahzad Ismaily ( 2 Foot Yard, Barbez, Burnt Sugar, Causing A Tiger, Ceramic Dog, Doveman, Kotkot, Pure Horsehair and Secret Chiefs 3 ) and drummer Greg Fox ( Guardian Alien, Liturgy, Teeth Mountain, Zs). EX EYE is one of those avant-garde type groups that is similar to others like Zu and Aluk Todolo and succeeds in creating a sort of frenetic drone type music, that meaning a very hypnotic anchoring system with a hornet’s nest of buzzing instruments that swirl around its center with extra attention on hyperactive saxophone attacks, black metal riffs that dance in the dark with oscillating swirling synthesizer sounds.

While the post-metal tag genre tag has traditionally been somewhat synonymous with sludge metal such as with bands like Neurosis and Isis pretty much fitting into both worlds, the two subgenera are not exactly identical at all. Sludge metal is derived primarily from doom metal with aggressive emphasis on guitar feedback and groovy riffs and angry vocals often bordering on hardcore punk whereas post-metal owes its atmospheric hypnotic riffs and grooves more to the world of post-rock which focuses on long drawn out and repetitive passages that slowly shift the dynamics of the atmosphere and tempos. EX EYE is more of the latter but does exhibit both styles as they are conservative with root notes and profligate with the subtle and abrupt changes around them. The end result is a very groovy and hypnotic drift through frenzied sax and guitar solos and complex flurries of synthesized bliss that deftly blend the simplistic with an array of complex counterpoints. The band is also unique as far as i know in that they substitute the bass guitar with a bass saxophone. Their debut eponymous album consists of four mostly lengthy tracks and there is a bonus twelve minute track on digital forms.

“Xenolith; The Anvil” (3:55) is the shortest track that carries a repetitive almost funk type groove that extends pretty much throughout. Graced with a heavy dramatic technical drum workout to dazzle us upon first listen, the track quickly chills out with a lackadaisical percussive drive as the groove unfolds slowly followed by the guitar and sax counterpoints that ratchet up the tension. “Opposition/Perihelion; The Coil” (12:29) takes on a new persona with a syncopated drum and bass sax line on hyperdrive and stuck in a two note groove that eventually takes on a slight musical scale and is the track that sounds most like Aluk Todolo however just when you think the groove is set on cruise control it changes things up with a partial melodic change. After the frenetic intro, the guitar becomes sludgy and slows down while the saxophone parts become fuel injected as if they are channeling John Zorn at his most caffeinated.

“Anaitis Hymnal; The Arkose Disc” (11:56) makes me think a Klaus Schulze CD has been slipped into my player as a dark and brooding electronic storms brews with a dreadful hum and a swarm of insectoid aliens flying ahead. The percussion joins in but as an intermittent tom strike that feels as if a sole giant is thundering the Earth as he walks upon its fragile crust. As the synth takes me to Neptune, the sax gains power as an oscillating beacon of terror and then, the final straw breaks the camel’s back as the relentless blastbeat drumming adds the final fear inducing ingredient as the sax goes even crazier and the instruments all start to fade in and out of tune with each other until they reach a terrifying frenetic climax. Yes, indeed. This is the soundtrack of nightmares. “Form Constant; The Grid” (8:08) delivers an oscillating sax attack that is accompanied by a high pitched atmospheric backdrop before it all goes nuts with frenetic nonstop avant-garde jazz sax noodling, guitar bombast and a minimalist synthesizer sequence that reminds me of Philip Glass’ “Glassworks” and “Koyaanisqatsi” era.

Tten Crows : The Corruptor” (bonus track digital only) (12:01) is surprisingly quite different from the rest of the pack and the most bizarre. It consists of an intermittent guitar riffs, somewhat lazy following percussive drive and a frenetic synth and sax dueling it out. This one actually has more of a drawn out melody although every note is amplified by sax shredding and atmospheric weirdness. The guitar is also much more aggressive as it enters pure metal territory. In the middle it changes into some sort of Latin percussion with an acid jazz type of keyboard run. The guitar fuzz is thicker on this one and there is more of guitar dominated soloing that steals the show from the attention hog saxophone parts. This one is pretty cool and just as good as the other four tracks. Unfortunately i have the CD so it’s not on there.

EX EYE crank out a fairly sophisticated mix of minimalistic grooves wrapped up in jazzy saxophone virtuosity and psychedelic atmospheric ambience. The guitar, while present is usually reserved for power chords with the odd dominant riff entering the scene but is always in the background. All the musicians rely on intricate interplay and although certain segments showcase a retrospective instrument, the overall fabric of the music is very much dependent on how it’s all woven together. The repetitive groovy feel is extremely hypnotic while the overly busy counterpoints whizz around like a swarm of wasps that just had their nest knocked to the ground. While this isn’t as avant-garde and weird as it’s made out to be since it’s in the same musical experimental tree as bands like Aluk Todolo and Zu, EX EYE does however stand out as a fairly unique sounding outfit. Whether this pans out to be a full time project or not remains to be seen, but as for now EX EYE has conjured up a satisfying slice of hypnotic varied post-metal with all kinds of frenetic accoutrements that take the listener into dark musical soundscapes.


Album · 2017 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
By first look, it would be easy to mistake Ex Eye's debut studio album as some sort of atmospheric black metal album. However, you may notice by looking at its entry on this site, there are no vocals and rather horns. No bass either, instead using synth. So what should one expect from this? Well, you can't really expect much until you listen to it...

...and once you do, there's a bit of conflict that may come with a full listen. I must say, that when you first start the album, it's hard not to get addicted to the first song. Damn is it catchy, and gets you hooked. I'd describe it as space metal, sounding a bit like what may be a classic Hawkwind cut. The drums are the main star here, with a steady locked in groove that keeps the foot tapping and just the right amount of fills to give it the right amount of flavor, all courtesy of Liturgy's Greg Fox. The more you listen though, the more that the rest of the instruments stand out. It all blends together and grooves, but the horns, guitar, and droning synth bring in a nice chill vibe to the whole thing.

Unfortunately, this first song tricks you into thinking that this will be an amazing spacey instrumental metal journey of a catchy variety. The rest of the tracks (on the physical release), while retaining a similar atmosphere, are more of an avant-garde and slightly jazzy black metal sound. They just kind of drone on and don't have enough to differentiate themselves from one another. Occasionally there will be an interesting drum fill, but most of the time it's on black metal auto-pilot. This is at it's worse on Anaitis Hymnal, which is easily the worst song on the album. Ever want to hear really generic atmospheric black metal with no guitar to be heard? Then this is for you, as it is dominated by a synthetic yet blaring atmosphere with pretty constant double-bass drumming. The horns also sometimes present a problem. While barely audible on the aforementioned track, they are often too avant-garde for my tastes. I would have liked to hear some more catchy melodies, or more of the perfect blend of instruments from that first song Xenolith.

The physical release excludes the fifth song, don't ask me why as it could easily fit on the disc. This song is pretty great, and is easily the second highlight of the album after the first track. While the first few minutes sound like the horns are dying a painful death, skip ahead and it starts to sound like some cool experimental electronic track before letting the guitar shine in the style of an old school 70's rock jam. You don't hear too many awesome old school guitar jams these days, so it's welcome to hear. After that, you finally get to hear a return to the catchy space metal vibe of the first track, just a bit slower and doom-sounding this time around.

Overall, this is certainly an acquired taste. For those who love experimental space rock, the first and last tracks are probably some of the best of 2017 that you'll hear of that variety. However, the rest of the album is only for fans of avant-garde noodling or atmospheric black metal blandness, which I certainly am not one. Either way, avoid the physical release. Ordinarily, I would never say that, but in this case it's a rip off. Not including a song that could easily be included makes zero sense. If these guys hone in on the sound of the first and last tracks, I think they could make something really great next time around. Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

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