In what circumstances does a new band’s direct unabashed influence from a well known active band make those newcomers derivative, redundant, and irrelevant? International prog supergroup Soen, for instance, gets a pass at their obvious take on Tool because of Tool’s inactivity over the last decade; at this point, it’s Tool’s fault for leaving a vacuum, and no one can blame Soen for stepping in and moving the sound forward. However, they’re a successful exception where countless bands never leave their sphere of local gigs or scantly visited Bandcamp pages due to being too highly derivative of genre trends without adding character and idiosyncrasy.
New Jersey’s Vexes, which features former members of influential metalcore band A Life Once Lost, is another rare exception that takes overt influence from alt-metal giants Deftones for an absolutely thrilling debut album, Ancient Geometry. Recent output from Deftones has soured some longtime fans, and those looking for a refreshing take on romantic metallic croons and monolithic grooves in a wash of atmosphere will likely adore the Vexes treatment to the sound. Think of a high-energy Diamond Eyes with a post-hardcore slant, and you’ve got Ancient Geometry, and then some.
Though I hesitate to lean too heavily on Deftones comparisons, as it is a disservice to how much Vexes bring to the table for their debut. Sure, it’s first and foremost apparent when hearing tracks like “Lift” and “Plasticine” and hearing frontman Charlie Berezansky’s mystic vocal affect and the act’s approach to rhythm that Deftones no doubt played an important role in the collective lives of Vexes — guitarist John Klagholz told us that Adrenaline was a “life changing record” — but Vexes augment the sound with influences from hardcore and prog to create a distinct sound that pushes the style into new territory that would be hard for Deftones themselves to pull off.
A spark of life comes from a myriad of other influences; brief flashes of Meshuggah pop through in the reflective and Pink Floyd-inspired and downtempo “Decisions are Death Here”; Opening track “Helion” sports an unexpectedly vicious breakdown that feels of lost remnants of the late A Life Once Lost; “No Color,” with its seven-minute runtime and elegant melodicism, dirge riffs, and atmosphere evoke post-metal bands like The Ocean while remaining tethered to their core alt-metal sound. “Terra” in particular is an exciting highlight which sports a psychedelic drum and bass propelled bridge. Ancient Geometry captures various moods and a dynamic range of instrumentals that keep things fresh from track-to-track.
And above all, this record is packed with hooks and is catchier than it has any right to be. Say what you want about the direct Deftones lineage, but the songwriting from Vexes here is undeniable. The emphasis on massive choruses pays off, and is boueyed by dynamic shifts and experimention. Each track has a hook or moment that proves its worth, and at 10 tracks and fifty minutes, the ratio of engagement is extraordinarilly high for alt metal and post-hardcore. It’s too early to begin speculation for our Album of the Year proceedings, but Vexes makes a solid case for longevity with Ancient Geometry.