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Friday, November 8, 2013

Album Review: Exivious – Liminal

My first experience of Exivious finds me questioning my relationship with metal and my own expectations of metal – at what point does something stop being metal and start being something else? The reason for this self-analysis is due to the Dutch instrumental collective’s attempts to “amalgamate jazz fusion with metal”. Previous attempts to unite the genres of jazz and metal have given us mixed results. From the marmite chaos created by bands like T.R.A.M. via the varied assortment of modern tech, djent and prog bands through to Ihsahn’s own morbid musings and the maniacal black jazz of Shining. Exivious lean far heavier on their jazz leg than they do on their modern metal leg, whilst their Encylopedia Metallum-suggested “death metal” leg appears to have been well and truly amputated. Think T.R.A.M. plus Chimp Spanner plus ambidjent fiend Cloudkicker and you’ll have a rough idea of what Liminal sounds like.

The smooth groove of jazz fusion tends to throw all sorts of spanners into the works and I’m quite willing to sit here and quote 70s jazz groups like Mahavishnu Orchestra or Weather Report at you all day, but as a metalhead writing for a metal website, I feel duty-bound to write with my horned metal hat on, rather than my equally brassy jazz one. What Liminal offers is plenty of accessible rhythmic grooves and overlapping guitar noodling but a vast dearth of songwriting passion. One thing, this type of music has to do is grip you emotionally and it’s missing that vital edge. Tonally, you can switch on and drop out because there is little variation of strength here. All too often, Exivious eschew aggression or, conversely, restraint and, as a consequence, the “starbursts of noise” and “breathless interludes” that they claim to have created are few and far between.

“One’s Glow”, for instance, happily pootles along, seemingly without any particular destination, as an overlapping funk guitar and powerful thumbed bassline providing little more than a backing track. “Deeply Woven” brings with it a slightly chunkier heartbeat that is part-Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds, part-T.R.A.M., providing an opening platform for the lead guitar, then sax, to skiddily warble their way up and down the scales – the result is unsettling jazz that throws you from pillar to post. “Triguna” and “Entrust”, despite struggling to ever fully kick off, show potential and as such are possible growers. The nail in the coffin here, though, is the gut-wrenching key change that lurks in “Open”, which only emphasizes just how clunky the construction is – everything from the insipidly warm riff to the patchwork of chugs.

It’s all rather criminal when you consider that there are beautifully-constructed songs lurking within. “Alphaform”, for instance, is a rhythmically-static and richly-layered, multi-part creation. From the inherently addictive riff that drives it, to the soft-souled breakdown it’s worth checking out. Fans of the stormchasing blockbuster Twister with its Mark Mancina-composed, Eddie & Alex Van Halen-performed end credits will know what to expect. Similarly effective, “Movement” is an expansive, wildly imaginative dream, whilst “Immanent” adds grit and verve with a jagged bottom line and, opposing it, a lead with a mischievous sense of purpose about it. These three are, without doubt, written as straight-up post-rock numbers to offset the braggadocio of their brethren – as such, they divide the album, irreparably, into two separately-impacting halves. Looks like I’ll need both those hats after all!

Liminal, a word that implies an edge or threshold, seems like an ironic title when you consider that the technically-proficient Exivious, in both their post-rock and jazz fusion forms, appear to operate within a confined range. Their music rarely ventures down to the heavier end of the spectrum nor can it be described as a manifestly soft touch. Rather, it consists of a recumbent, middle ground approach to songwriting. Considering other tech-happy, fleetingly ambient bands like Tesseract, Uneven Structure and even Textures (featuring former band member Stef Broks) find room within their structures to bring both the hefty and the ethereal, it seems unusual that an instrumental band, sans vocalist, would not. Hypothetically, they’d have more room to explore these edgier qualities – especially if metal was a desired territory of theirs, right? Laid-back, undoubtedly self-indulgent but strangely intriguing, this may be metal but not as we know it.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2013/11/exivious-liminal-season-of-mist/
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