There’s a moment in Ex Eye’s howling behemoth “Opposition Perihelion The Coil,” about five minutes into the 12-minute, blistering black metal scourge, when rifle blasts of saxophone ring out. Sickening waves of noise slowly start to disable it, and eventually it’s drowned out. But then the tide turns. At the apex, saxophone and drums face off, twisting and snarling like serpentine electric eels. A particularly nasty growl emerges from the dust storm, and the fight is raised ever higher over layers of manic and moaning sax. Then a sense of calm is reached, letting you catch your breath briefly, before the twisted saga, albeit muted now, continues. And that’s all in one song.
Ex Eye is the latest endeavor from Colin Stetson, the prodigiously talented saxophonist who has also dabbled in French horn, flute and clarinets. Having already proven himself capable of creating epic whirlwinds of sound on his solo recordings, here his boundless energy is focused on an even fuller post-metal sound with the help of drummer Greg Fox (Zs, Liturgy), synth player Shahzad Ismaily (Secret Chiefs 3) and guitarist Toby Summerfield.
To make up for an absence of vocal narrative, Ex Eye relies on progressive jazz tones over a tight grid of tribal death beats and hazy, nondescript noise to tell their stories. The longform songs in this debut are vast, bottomless soliloquies torched with heavy vitriol and few breaks of silence. The songs are set up like all-consuming chapters in a horror book, each blasting its own experimental black metal wasteland, full of dense valleys and contemplative peaks.
“Anaitis Hymnal The Arkose Disc” is a rich cacophony of frantic grindcore drumming and cymbal-work that builds frayed threads of wary tension. Fox’s explosive work commands all attention, despite the wall of sound that threatens to annihilate it. The instrumental turns even more tangled and congested, threatening to almost suffocate the project. You’re not quite sure where you should direct your ears, and then, with a deep, booming beat, the sound fades out. And although “Form Constant the Grid” contains a more distinctive melody, similar to the four-minute opener (which seems quaint in comparison to the other massive songs), it still becomes a beautiful network of jazz sax twirls and jags with only a drumbeat and a distant melody to keep the time.
It’s clear from the fire and wreckage in these four tracks that this group isn’t just out to perform technically proficient avant-garde jazz metal. There’s a disturbing core of darkness in each song that makes the album come to life, expressing hidden feelings the listener might not want to uncover.