It’s no secret that I love the following things: saxophones in general, saxophones in metal, and saxophonist Colin Stetson. I’ve been following Stetson for years now when he was putting together his trio of otherworldly solo records, New History Warfare. I wrote about him extensively for here last year when he and violinist (and wife) Sarah Neufeld dropped “the heaviest unheavy record” of 2015 in Never were the way she was. And Eden and I were once again transfixed by him when he released his interpretation of Górecki’s 3rd Symphony in Sorrow earlier this year. One of the more fascinating things about looking at Stetson’s work throughout this period is his gradual movement towards and seemingly increased interest in heavier sounds. New History Warfare Vol. 3 included a heavy as fuck bass sax track “Brute,” featuring some surprisingly decent Cookie Monster growls from Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) of all people. Never were the way she was, albeit certainly not close to metal, was just an emotionally-draining, bleak album of experimental music.
It’s Sorrow though where it appears Stetson started truly dipping his toes into the metal pool. It takes the already devastating emotional weight of Górecki’s original work and filters it, in large part, through an atmospheric black metal prism. He brought in Greg Fox of Liturgy for the project on drums, who in turn provided muscular blast beats and crushing waves of percussion, as well as Shahzad Ismaily, who provided the emotionally-drenched backbone of the entire piece in its bleak synths. The piece was beautiful and thrilling enough on its own, but it also seemed to open the door for further heavy explorations from Stetson. Only a couple of mere months after that album’s release, I received an interesting message from Le Poisson Rouge (one of the better small venues in New York City for pretty much all kinds of music) advertising a show on relatively short notice (2 weeks) from this new band called EX EYE. The members included Stetson, Fox, Ismaily, and Toby Summerfield on guitar. The description for EX EYE was as follows:
EX EYE makes a music of power, control, motion and intention. There is precise, clockwork intricacy and ecstatic abandon. It is hard, heavy music – aggressive, cathartic, and thrilling. The four members gathered at Colin Stetson’s behest, but the group creates its material as a unit. The instruments fluidly exchange roles; melody, harmony, riff, engine, anchor, fuel.
There was nothing else to go on. The band’s Facebook page was essentially barren around the time of the show announcement. Around a week or so prior to the show Stetson posted a few audio clips from a recent rehearsal, which shed a little more light on what I could possibly expect from this show and this band, but not all that much. In essence, I went into their premiere show this past Friday blind along with everyone else, our interests piqued and hopes high but really with no idea of what would come.
I left that show with my ears ringing, my adrenaline coursing, and a huge fucking smile plastered on my face. EX EYE is real. It’s legit. And for the love of music, I hope that this was just the beginning of something truly great.
What I have here are a couple of videos I recorded with my phone, so apologies for the quality (if I had known what I know now I would’ve brought a camera to at least get some nicer-looking video). The first video is just a brief clip from the end of their first song, featuring Stetson on bass sax and employing some of his vocalization techniques. The second video though, which captures pretty much the entirety of the following song, really showcases the potential this group has. Beginning with a wall of alto sax arpeggios that’s become a hallmark of Stetson’s sound, it transforms into a sludgy atmospheric post-metal motif that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Sannhet or Telepathy track. Starting around halfway through Stetson, Summerfield, and Ismaily lock into some crazy riffage, and towards the end Stetson and Summerfield play off of each other, creating a blistering wall of notes floating above Fox’s precise and killer drumwork.
Needless to say, the crowd (a pretty respectably-sized one for such a show I must say) completely lost its shit throughout the set. Even the venue seemed caught off-guard by how “startlingly good” it was.
EX EYE makes their NYC debut and it’s something startlingly good. pic.twitter.com/nyeNe2m7aR
— (Le) Poisson Rouge (@lprnyc) June 18, 2016
It’s honestly everything I could have possibly hoped for from a Colin Stetson metal project and more. What I posted wasn’t even the best song of the set, but it’s a good representation of what they’re capable of. To my knowledge there is no one else out there using the sax like this with this kind of music. It’s truly something different, and it absolutely has the potential to be something very special. There has been no other information released from the band or elsewhere about plans beyond this show currently, but you better believe I will be on top of it if anything arises. In the meantime, if you’re like us and are eager to see what the future of post-metal has in store, watch this space.