An Overwhelming Band for Overwhelming Times
June 25, 2020 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Ex Eye is an experimental metal band consisting of saxophonist Colin Stetson, drummer Greg Fox (of Liturgy), synth player Shahzad Ismaily (Secret Chiefs 3, Ceramic Dog), and guitarist Toby Summerfield. While it's no replacement for an actual concert, this video of their August 18, 2017 performance at Saint Vitus Bar is the next best thing, especially if you've got a great sound system.

Ex Eye has released two albums so far: their self-titled debut and a live album of their Saint Vitus performance Live at Saint Vitus.

From Pitchfork, who gave the album an 8.1:
On its radiant and righteous self-titled debut, Ex Eye—drummer Greg Fox, multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, guitarist Toby Summerfield—gathers like a thunderstorm around the baritone saxophone of Colin Stetson, whose high volume and versatility are both anchor and catapult. His tightly spiraling melody during “Opposition/Perihelion; The Coil,” a long-playing fever dream of relentless drums and ascendant guitar, is the snake charmer’s ruse, the trick that tantalizes this beast of a band. On the other hand, his ability to hold and stretch a note like a bionic foghorn during “Anaitis Hymnal; The Arkose Disc” provides a canvas, gradually covered with a wash of accreting, overwhelming sound. Ex Eye slices exciting elements from a dozen extreme forms—black metal and doom metal, free jazz, hard bop, harsh noise, EDM, even 20th-century symphonies—and shapes them into seamless chimeras. These five pieces are as urgent as they are magnetic. Against incredible odds, Ex Eye is practically uplifting.
From the Washington Post, Ex Eye is an overwhelming band for overwhelming times:
But if you closed your eyes Wednesday night, you probably felt an abundance of musical information rushing toward your every square inch. The ears weren’t going to be enough. Stetson was generating sound with the entirety of his body, and he clearly wanted us to hear it the same way. So whenever he sent long, dense notes steamrolling out of his bass saxophone, he was aiming them straight at our teeth. It felt assaultive but, somehow, never overpowering. The quartet spoke its nonstop language so articulately, it gave you the feeling that you were actually absorbing every note in the bombardment.

That’s impossible, right? Music is constantly reminding us of the immeasurable gap between our senses and our brains. We always hear more than we understand, which is what makes music mysterious, which is what makes it great. Throughout Ex Eye’s performance, I kept moving closer and closer to the stage, until I finally felt a deeper hit of a clarity — the kind you get when you walk up to the edge of the ocean. You can’t comprehend the totality of everything you’re taking in, but you know exactly where you are.
From PopMatters:
Ex Eye's self-titled debut is an intriguing amalgam of black metal, progressive rock, minimalism, and free jazz while not sounding of a piece with any representative artist from those genres. Like fellow maverick saxophonist John Zorn, Stetson is paving his own way through the waters of extreme music, making albums that make catharsis physical.
posted by yasaman (17 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Saint Vitus Bar is one of the best concert venues in NYC. I've seen a number of great shows there _and_ performed on its stage at Brooklyn Air Guitar competitions. They recently held a Kickstarter to help them stay open that brought in $130,000, and I hope it works so that more amazing shows can happen there.
posted by SansPoint at 12:00 PM on June 25

Wow, that was something else. I couldn't stop listening and found myself going through a roller coaster of feelings as I was pulled along by the drama of the music. Those reviews sum up the experience very well for me.
posted by treepour at 12:03 PM on June 25

Thank you for sharing this. For fans of Zu, this is right in that wheel house.
posted by lowrentkicker at 12:05 PM on June 25 [2 favorites]

YES. So glad to see an Ex Eye post on the blue. Colin Stetson is one busy dude, what with his film scores and solo records in addition to Ex Eye and his session work.
posted by gwint at 12:17 PM on June 25

Yeah, speaking of Colin Stetson's film score work, I've really been enjoying his score for the National Geographic series Barkskins. Not sure I'll ever get around to watching the actual show, but the soundtrack is a captivating listen.
posted by yasaman at 12:28 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


can't fathom how stetson managed to fit that enraged mastodon into his sax at 4:15 without anyone noticing
posted by inire at 12:49 PM on June 25 [4 favorites]

yasaman thank you for posting this. This music clicked with me something fierce and has gotten stuck in my head in the best way. So wonderful.
posted by brainwane at 3:09 PM on June 25 [2 favorites]

Holy shit. Not everyone's cup of tea, but holy shit. Relentless. Thanks.

Obligatory Metafilter: Holy shit. Not everyone's cup of tea, but holy shit. Thanks.
posted by grimjeer at 3:20 PM on June 25

Holy moley. I'm ten minutes into the live show and really really loving this. I need to to listen to more, louder. Thanks for putting this on my radar.
posted by cortex at 3:32 PM on June 25

I never heard of this band, thanks!
From a google search, a short NPR review including Ex Eye's official video; ..."Stetson, a saxophonist with fire for lungs"... and the video is great.

Colin Stetson's Ex Eye Will Smash Us All – Watch And Fear 'Xenolith; The Anvil'
posted by jjj606 at 3:39 PM on June 25

Not everyone's cup of tea, but holy shit. Relentless.

That about sums it up, yeah! I'm a fan of Stetson's other work, but I wouldn't consider myself a metal fan by any stretch, so I wasn't expecting to love Ex Eye so much. I really do love them though, their music is the audio equivalent of a weighted blanket for me. It feels weird to say I find music this loud and powerful soothing, but I really, really do. During some stretches of these songs, I find myself just taking in a deep, cleansing breath and letting the relentless waves of music wash over me. I guess maybe the music is so overpowering and overwhelming that it makes my mind go quiet. Which makes it excellent music for these anxious times!
posted by yasaman at 4:02 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]

Terrific. I'm loving how much good metal of the last five years or so has featured bass instruments other than the bass guitar or keys.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:14 PM on June 25

Meral has been in decline since they stopped having sax solos, good to hear
posted by thelonius at 4:22 PM on June 25

Oh amazing, thanks for sharing. I don't know how I've managed to miss this as Colin Stetson and metal is the overlap of the Venn diagram of my personal interests. I first saw him supporting Godspeed You Black Emperor many years ago and remember almost nothing about the headliner as all I wanted to do was go home and listen to his album which I bought from the the merch stand then and there.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:22 AM on June 26

THANK YOU for this post. I'm listening to this and it's been so many years since I've had that feeling of being at a concert and having your entire consciousness blasted into an altered state by fantastically loud, intense, music.

I mean, holy shit, I am simultaneously reminded of...My Bloody Valentine, Steve Reich, We Were Promised Jetpacks, The Comet is Coming...Ex Eye is indeed an overwhelming band for overwhelming times.
posted by dsquared at 6:02 PM on June 28

As soon as I opened the YouTube video and saw "Relapse Records", I was all, "AW YEAH, this is gonna be good."

Stuff like this is really the only reason I miss working small clubs - every so often some astoundingly good over-the-top act like this would show up outta nowhere.

Thanks for posting, yasaman.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:00 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]

Great stuff, love it.
Folks who dig this should check out Horse Lords. Not metal by any means, but Ex Eye immediately reminded me of them, hitting some of the same points. I much prefer seeing Horse Lords in a dark sweaty warehouse, but this video does a good job showing what they are up to. Also, just intonation guitar and bass!
posted by zoinks at 4:05 PM on June 29

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