EX EYE was conceived during the sessions for Colin Stetson's landmark 2016 album, Sorrow: A Reimagining of Gorecki's 3rd Symphony. Liturgy drummer Greg Fox and keyboardist Shahzad Ismaily (Ceramic Dog, Secret Chiefs 3) both played on that record, and the trio undertook discussions of forming a band that engaged black and post-metal aesthetics. Stetson reached out to his longtime friend, guitarist Toby Summerfield, and the quartet commenced playing festivals. Relapse Records heard and signed them almost on the spot. This debut four-track album embraces and challenges accepted notions about post-metal, black metal, and doom metal.
Opener "Xenolith; The Anvil" commences with a crescendo of squalling tremoloed guitar, tsunami-like synth, and blastbeats before establishing an interlocking groove with Stetson's bass horn creating its main body. Fox's blasts re-emerge to carry it out, and the listener is left wondering what exactly happened over the last five minutes. "Opposition/Perihelion; The Coil" is the set's longest jam at over 12 minutes. Introduced by Stetson's alto saxophone acrobatics -- circular breathing and multiphonics -- Summerfield adds spiky riffage as Fox bridges the drum gaps between Emperor's Faust and Rashied Ali, and Ismaily weaves string-like waves on his synths. Stetson takes solo fills that add a large, bold, underscored "POST" to these metallic proceedings. A long breakdown ushers in a sinister dirge-like groove where Stetson stretches a bit and Summerfield's playing becomes the force of tension. By contrast, the slow, droning intro to "Anaitis Hymnal; The Arkose Disc" initially sounds -- and feels -- like a return to Sorrow. It's almost suffocatingly atmospheric in its black metal overtones. Fox simultaneously explodes that notion while underscoring it with violent cymbal and kick drum work. Stetson whirls around him with fat, deep register bleats and blasts as Summerfield and Ismaily register layered textural playing that increases the notions of dread and grief before Stetson starts screaming and moaning through his horn. But the tension is not released; it's ratcheted to the bursting point and explodes into the endless void of outer blackness. "Form Constant; The Grid" closes the set with urgent, muscular alto saxophone and hovering, taut synth lines. Summerfield fingerpicks tremoloed chords while Fox adds a processional dirge. All sounds meet at the margins then crash back into the center in a massive orgy of doom before the pace picks up with black metal fury, climbing synth basslines, and annihilating cymbal crashes as Summerfield and Stetson roil around one another with unhinged noisemaking akin to John Zorn's Painkiller. While the music on this self-titled offering is breathtaking in its intensity, beauty, and mystery, what's even more incomprehensible is that this quartet manages to challenge, realign, and perhaps even redefine the entire post-metal landscape in 28 short minutes. Given that, there is no excuse for every post-metal and black metal fan not to enjoy EX EYE's project.