Releasing their self-titled debut through Relapse Records, Ex Eye is an experimental, jazzy post-metal outfit masterminded by saxophonist Colin Stetson, featuring Liturgy’s Greg Fox on drums, the keyboardist from Secret Chiefs 3, Shahzad Ismaily, and Toby Summerfield on guitar.
Put simply, Ex Eye play a jazz-infused take on instrumental post-metal. Think a mashup of Russian Circles, Lightning Bolt, Krallice and Shining (the good, Norwegian Shining, fronted by Jørgen Munkeby) and you’ll be on the right track in terms of what to expect. Already an established and highly regarded musician out with the metal scene, Ex Eye marks Colin Stetson’s first proper foray into the metal genre (although he had dabbled in the heavier side of things on the likes of “Brute” from an earlier solo album), the saxophonist has previously recorded with Sarah Neufield, The Animal Collective and The Arcade Fire. Many metal bands such as Shining, Yakuza, Brain Tentacles and even Couch Slut, have utilised the versatile sounds of saxophones in different ways and on Ex Eye Stetson sounds as assured and comfortable in this style of music as he does on his more avant-garde jazz works.
Recorded live(!) by Justin Frye at Ismaily’s Figure 8 Studio in New York, the four songs on Ex Eye’s debut each offer something different from the last, with the band drawing on all sorts of influences from black metal through jazz to electronica. When it comes to making an impact, Ex Eye does not mess about either; a sharp snap of snare kicks off the explosive first 20 seconds of “Xenolith; The Anvil”. Following that energetic opening salvo, a heavy synth and sax led groove smoothly introduce Summerfield’s layered jangly riffs and extended solos which draw most of the attention during the midsection, before Stetson’s wailing sax and Fox’s rolling snare see out the remainder of the track. This opening track serves as a great introduction to the band’s genre-mashing sound – the shortest of the four songs on Ex Eye, “Xenolith; The Anvil” plays out like a four minute highlight medley of the whole album.
The twelve minute “Opposition/Perihelion; The Coil” twists and turns, peaks and troughs in the way that the best post-metal tracks do, all the while showcasing each musician’s outstanding talents. With tension and noise building over the first five minutes, all four musicians seemingly trying to make as much noise as possible, the epic song reaches a climax then calms into another spellbinding rhythm centred around Ismaily’s hypnotic synth and Fox’s clockwork drumming. Listening to “Opposition/Perihelion; The Coil”, it’s difficult to comprehend how something this dense and complex could have been recorded live with only four musicians.
“Anaitis Hymnal; The Arkose Disc”, another twelve minute song, takes on atmospheric black metal elements and Stetson’s bursts of sax sound like a howling vocalist (I had to double check the press release to make sure no vocalist was listed for this or any of the other three tracks on Ex Eye). After another slow build, the second half of final track “Form Constant; The Grid” continues the black metal tinged chaos with lashings of tremolo riffs from Summerfield and rapid blast beats from Greg Fox, while the keys and sax lead a swirling descent into darkness, drawing the album to a close.
Ex Eye may be a bewildering prospect for some listeners new to this style of experimental post-metal, but the album’s technical intricacies and mesmerising grooves provide a rewarding and interesting listen. For their astounding debut, Ex Eye have found a fitting home at Relapse, sharing a roster with other left-field acts such as Zombi, Genghis Tron and Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor’s new synthy offshoot, Arcadea.
Ex Eye is out now