AMN Reviews: Ex Eye – Ex Eye (2017; Relapse Records)

Ex Eye is a supergroup of sorts, with Colin Stetson on sax, Greg Fox on drums, Shahzad Ismaily on keys, and Toby Summerfield on guitars. Stetson is well-known in indie-rock circles for stints with The National, GYBE, Arcade Fire, and many others. More recently, he has been exercising his experimental muscles with his solo efforts, including a reimagining of Górecki’s 3rd symphony. Summerfield’s works also stand with one foot in the experimental camp, collaborating with many improvisers from the Chicago scene. Ismaily is recognized for his contributions to Secret Chiefs 3 and Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, while Fox plays with avant-metal band Liturgy and Zs.

If one were to quickly sum up this self-titled debut, “atmospheric post-metal with sax” would be an appropriate label. Summerfield lays down layers of riffs, picked notes, and hammer-on / pull-offs. Stetson moves in and around these with shifting melodies and drones, including the occasional wail. Ismaily and Fox focus mostly on rhythm roles, filling out the sound. From time to time, Stetson and Fox break out into a combination of free jazz and speed metal, but do so without deviating far from the dense structure of the album. Keyboards, sax, and guitar frequently melt with one another into a shifting wall of an orchestral nature, where the overall dynamics are much slower than those of the individual instruments. The result is imposing, but never overbearing.

Fans of groups like Pelican and Russian Circles will find a lot to like here, especially if your preference runs left of center. An unusual and highly recommended release.