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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Ex Eye - Ex Eye (Relapse Records, 2017) ****

By Martin Schray

After the last part of his New History Warfare trilogy Colin Stetson was somehow in a cul-de-sac. With these albums he had created a unique cosmos of sound, distinctive and captivating. But it was clear that this concept was also limited, which is why Stetson had to change something. He also seemed to realize that and recorded a very accessible duo album with his partner Sarah Neufeld, a violinist who has worked with Arcade Fire. In addition, he interpreted Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s Symphony Nr. 3. However, both albums received mixed reviews. Then, earlier this year, he released a new solo album, All This I Do For Glory. In his review for the follow-up of New History Warfare Part 3, Daniel Böker claimed that Stetson had managed to change because he included catchy tunes and more beats in his music, that he obviously had made an effort to reach a bigger audience. But beats have always been an integral part of Stetson’s music, even if they’re more prominent on All This I do For Glory, and there has always been a certain catchiness in his solo pieces as well. So, if there was change, it was only a slight one. Shortly after the release of All This I do For Glory though, the man presented a project which promised real change: Ex Eye.

Apart from Stetson the band is Greg Fox on drums (of Liturgy and Zs fame), Toby Summerfield on guitar and Shazad Ismaily on synths, and actually their music is an amalgam of black epic metal, kraut, techno and free jazz. Electronics, guitar and drums circle around Colin Stetson’s alto and bass saxophones, his stoic intensity and versatility holds the compositions together and pushes them into new directions. 

The short opener “Xenolith“;The Anvil“ is a perfect example. Stetson’s sax takes the role of the bass, heavy chords dance around him, and then he breaks out into monotonous squealing cries, reminiscent of Mats Gustafsson or Peter Brötzmann.

Stetson’s spiraling melody in “Opposition/Perihelion; The Coil” presents him in the role of the soloist, the master of ceremonies. Greg Fox and Shazad Ismaily start with a wild coursing, and Stetson complements them with his typical minimal lines. Again and again the track moves up a gear, there are few, clear chord shiftings, the atmosphere is immensely tight. The music reminds me of Liturgy’s best songs like “Generation“ or “Sun of Light“, but here the voice is replaced by the sax. Then the track flows in ambient like areas before a synthesizer riff chases it into complete exhaustion. It’s a mixture of hallucination, invocation and nightmare - a definite highlight. 

“Anaitis Hymnal; The Arkose Disc”, the next track, presents Stetson’s ability to sustain notes like a dark, gloomy foghorn. He keeps his voice low at the beginning, delivering a melancholic melody. Then the sounds of the instruments melt, providing a gigantic texture, awash with overwhelming noise. 

The album is closed with the 8-minute “Form Constant; The Grid“, on which you can hear the old Stetson at his best - circular breathing lines in front of airy guitar chords. But just when you’ve accustomed to it, the piece morphs into another metal monster dominated by a slow guitar riff.

Here LP and CD end, but the download included in the vinyl version presents another gem: “Ten Crowns: the Corruptor“, a piece that gathers round a super slow Black Sabbath riff that becomes even slower towards the end. However, before this riff captures the track, Summerfield’s high guitar tremolos and Stetson’s bass saxophone collide in a fierce battle just to be relieved by weird synthesizer lines creating a fusion-like sphere, although dirtier and sleazier. When the aforementioned dominant riff turns up, it releases the tension, it’s like a catharsis.

Ex Eye’s music is complex and dramatic. A very interesting project, at least to me it’s more convincing than Stetson’s last solo efforts.

Watch and listen to “Xenolith“;The Anvil“ here:


Ex Eye’s debut is available on vinyl, CD and as a download.