Ex Eye is a band formed around Colin Stetone, a saxophone player who does most of the heavy lifting, along with a guitar player, a drummer and a guy playing a variety of instruments (one assumes mostly bass though), he is a multi-instrumentalist who is active in the New York jazz scene in his own right.
This is an album of instrumental music, comprising of only four tracks, with two going over the ten-minute mark. The total length is about 35 minutes. The music has been called a fusion of metal, rock and jazz by some observers, but to this set of ears, it’s basically jazz fusion.
There’s certainly a lot of variation in the longer pieces, which speed up and slow down and certainly build up and drop down again. There are moments that have a straight-ahead rock feel, usually the pauses between soloing, where just the basic three piece builds a pad for the instrument passages to start again.
All the musicians in this band have impressive pedigrees both in jazz fusion and working with more accessible artists (such as Bon Iver and Tom Waits). In that sense, this feels like somewhat of a super group, a group of highly talented and proficient musicians getting together to play whatever they feel like.
First track, Form Constant/The Grid, starts with what sounds like a fiddle playing insistently as a slow groove forms under it. The two seem almost at odds with each other. The melody of the backing builds as the lead instrument remains the same. Too often, the drums get busy like it’s a Slayer track, although the rest of the music follows into a faster rhythm eventually. The whole thing builds into an atonal piece with frantic drumming, the main instrument playing the same busy motif or it’s variations throughout , and the band stopped and starting. The whole thing feels like it could be a Yngwie instrumental if the drumming relaxed a bit and the lead instrument was guitar. The lead instrument is certainly not neo classical though, not in style or substance.
Second track, Xenolith/The Anvil, starts off in more familiar territory, with a keyboard riff being played over and over again. The drumming still has plenty of flourishes but is overall more controlled on this track. This song builds very slowly and the lead instruments don’t really appear until the last third. They are also more subdued, with this whole track sounding more straightforward and therefore more accessible. It’s not Surfin’ with the Alien, but it’s their most commercial track. It’s also the shortest at just under four minutes.
Next track, Opposition/Perihelion; The Coil, immediately starts in fusion territory. What makes this music different to say Joe Satriani or Yngie Malmsteen is that the music is both less melodic and less complex. The melodies are challenging, but they are not intricate, they are repetitive passages. There’s a brief vocal passage in this song (spoken). This track builds effectively over its 12 minutes, both up and down.
The final track is Anaitis Hymnal/The Arkose Disc. It starts very slow, with a slow beat and atmospheric chord changes. It builds into an atonal noise. At about half way, the track slows down again and becomes more atmospheric and melodic.
As the reader may have realized, this reviewer is not a big jazz fan. There’s no distorted guitars here. There’s nothing to bang your head to. Metal is a broad church, and embraces many different forms of music. You only have to witness folk metal to know that. Nevertheless, a broad church means tastes will vary. If you are a lover of jazz fusion, challenging melodies and music that doesn’t settle in to a predictable groove, and surprises you, then you may well find much to sink your teeth in to here. Certainly, this is a group of musicians who are very good at what they do. However, what they do is focused on a limited market of listeners. If you are in that group, you will find much to love here.