Ex Eye: Ex Eye

- I’d just got through being blown away by Australian duo Party Dozen and their incendiary mixture of percussion, synths, sax and just full-on metal thunder when the debut record by Ex Eye came across my desk. The fact that two such groups exist at all is a notable coincidence. The fact that their debut records appeared within a week of each other is, maybe, appallingly bad luck for their record sales, or a Christmasy hotshot to the arm for the (potentially small number of) fans of this kind of thing, or -let's embrace this- an opportunity to do double-header tours across the US and Australia and make this proto-sax-metal thing happen!

While I might be going nuts over Party Dozen, more people are going to recognise the man out the front of Ex Eye: experimental sax crossover star, Colin Stetson. Stetson’s rhythmically wild and thunderous work (and since the turn of the millennium he’s laid down a lot of it) has always felt like it might tip over into something you could explicitly call metal. Ex Eye's massive heaviness feels like a natural progression for him, although, among the many and varied subgenres of heavy music, it’s an even more specific sound than most.

The four behemoth cuts of their self-titled record don’t feature any vocals and, while Colin takes the lead with some pretty insane solos every now and then, the focus in its opening onslaughts is more on repetitive rhythmic patterns. There’s quite a lot of arpeggiation, making a mouthful of a track like Opposition / Perihelion; The Coil sound like Philip Glass on steroids. This is closer to what’s understood in the popular imagination as ‘maximalism’, but in its obsessive, repetitive, rhythmic focus is actually pretty close to the dictionary definition of minimalism in music. It might be easier to call it krautrock: Ex Eye have definitely taken the mostly wildly motorik moments of der kosmiche musik as a leaping off point. It’s also very easy to hear the influences of Ex Eye’s various members and the bands they come from. Much of what I’ve described here must be down to keyboardist Shahzad Ismaily and the stuff he learned building the hypnotic structures of Secret Chiefs 3, while both the rhythmic complexity and pure noise would be familiar to the drummer for avant-garde black metallers LiturgyGreg Fox.

If you need a bit of variation you do get it, the long trills of Anaitis Hymnal; The Akrose Disc are layered like a chorus of shrieks, one upon another, till you get a towering drone, a wall of noise that has a stature similar to Sunn O))) and a post-rock / black metal trajectory that you might compare to Deafheaven. Really, though, it sounds nothing like those things, they’re just the closest references I can think of. Also, over the top you can hear the brutal scream of Stetson’s sax and it’s a spine-tingling thing.

Stetson opens the record’s final number Form Constant; The Grid with one of the sickest solos I’ve heard from him, which is really saying something and the composition blends all the different styles we’ve heard so far: drone, post-rock, black metal and blindingly looping kraut / minimalist  rhythmic patterns. It’s a veritable vortex of doom that has caught me with my jaw a little agape, more than once when I’ve listened to it.

For all that I can only think of two sax-metal bands in the world, Ex Eye fit quite neatly into the heavy fusion sensibility that’s been popularised by the aforementioned Deafheaven, or, say, Alcest or This Will Destroy You: breaking through those jealously guarded barriers between genres and creating daring, new combinations. Well, they were daring, but, we’re a couple of album cycles into sounds like blackgaze. Ex Eye’s achievement is taking all of that and making it great. This record is arresting in its accomplishment, so fully realising the possibilities in this variety of extreme sounds. If I can cheapen the sentiment a little: the thing which keeps coming back to me is how hard it’d be for me to choose whether Party Dozen or Ex Eye would headline the tour I’ve imagined for them, but that’s a good problem to have.

- Chris Cobcroft.

Album Details

Album Title: Ex Eye
Artist: Ex Eye
Record Label: (Relapse)