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TRACK LIST: 1. Ripple of a Tear 7:30 2. Time & Its Changes 4:39 3. Asurim 5:31 4. All That Surrounds-1 3:38 5. Waves of Thought 6:24 6. The Path 5:45 7. All That Surrounds-2 3:39 8. Embrace the Unknown 4:44 9. An Elusive Need 4:39 LINEUP: Tymon Kruidenier – guitars Michel Nienhuis – guitars Robin Zielhorst – bass Stef Broks – drums
Prolusion. Hailing from the Netherlands, EXIVIOUS was first formed in 1997 by guitarist/vocalist Tymon Kruidenier. After the release of a self-titled, two-song demo in 2001, the band was put on hold until 2006, when they made their comeback with a new lineup. “Exivious”, their full-length debut, was released in 1,000 beautifully packaged copies. Kruidenier is also a member of seminal outfit Cynic, and plays on their 2008 reunion album, “Traced in Air”; while bassist Robin Zielhorst has played with them on live dates. Drummer Stef Broks comes instead from the ranks of Dutch prog metallers Textures.
Analysis. The very mention of the name Cynic is enough to send devotees of that form of ultra-technical progressive metal knows as ‘jazz-metal’ into fits of delight, and with good cause. The US band’s 1993 debut album, “Focus”, was nothing short of a landmark in terms of sheer creativity and boundary-pushing, turning the world of extreme metal upside down and going beyond the already impressive standards set by the likes of Watchtower and Atheist. With that album, two apparently irreconcilable universes like heavy metal and jazz-fusion met, and even cross-fertilised, producing one of the most exciting (though unlikely) matches ever heard so far. If you are not familiar with the genre, think of Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Birds of Fire” on steroids, and you will get the picture. Not surprisingly, since the two bands share guitarist Tymon Kruidenier, Exivious follow in the footsteps of Cynic. Unlike the US band, though, they have written vocals out of the equation, therefore removing one of the main hurdles for those who approach the more extreme fringes of prog metal, which mar many a listener’s enjoyment of albums such as “Focus”. Indeed, growling vocals seem to act as the ‘great divide’ between traditional prog and metal fans – no matter how intricate or proficient a band’s music may be, the use of growls (or similar styles) sets a band squarely in metal territory, which can be a major turn off. As is the case with most instrumental albums, “Exivious” requires careful listening in order to be fully appreciated. Being a musician also helps, though it is not a prerequisite. I play no musical instruments myself, yet I enjoy this kind of music immensely, even if I realise it is not the kind of stuff you can put on as a soundtrack for other activities. It is complex music, full of twists and turns, yet not unnecessarily complicated, or weird for weirdness’ sake. Instead of clashing, the sharper, more jagged metal edges interact with the smoothness of the more fusion-based parts – the music has a beautiful, natural flow, a clarity and melodic quality that not many would associate with ‘extreme’ metal. As one would expect, guitars make up a prominent part of the sound, though without dominating the proceedings to the point of overwhelming the other instruments. As a matter of fact, as in most jazz-fusion, the foundation of Exivious’ sound lies in the rhythm section, especially in Stef Broks’ stellar drumming. One of the ‘plus’ factors of this album is definitely its shortness, especially by today’s standards. As my readers probably already know, I am not a fan of albums running over 50 minutes, due to the objective difficulty of coming up with enough quality material to fill a 70-minute disc. Personally, I believe music as complex as the one on display on “Exivious” benefits from a shorter running time, so that none of the tracks overstay their welcome, or turn into mere exercises in technical prowess. Interestingly, opener Ripple of a Tear, which sets the mood right from its initial chords, is the longest track at 7.30 minutes, and also the one in which the jazz-fusion influences show most clearly. Clean, almost relaxed guitar licks alternate with heavy, sharp riffs in a pattern to be found in most of the tracks on the album, with extended soloing of arresting beauty even for non-guitarists. The second longest item, Waves of Thought, shares in many ways the same ‘rollercoaster’ structure, shifting abruptly from aggressive, dynamic riffing and soloing to an almost spacey section with keyboards echoing faintly in the background, sparse drumming and chime-like guitar – and then back to manic riffing, bolstered by some really intricate drumming patterns. And drums are the undisputed stars of the show on Asurim, paired with plenty of weird, shrill guitar effects. Some other tracks depart instead from the above-mentioned characteristics, and impress for their understated, tasteful mood – namely both parts of All That Surrounds, featuring some distinctive, water-like effects in the second part. The Path also showcases Exivious’ more sensitive side, with minimal use of the band’s trademark, hectic riffing, and a beautiful, atmospheric guitar solo in the middle. On the other hand, the heavily bass-led Embrace the Unknown represents an almost perfect example of ‘fusion-metal’, featuring an extended synth guitar solo in its first half. From a strictly musical point of view at least, though it can come across as somewhat cold and sterile, “Exivious” deserves the highest rating at my disposal. Top-notch musicianship, coupled with an admirable sense of restraint that shuns pointless shredding, and focuses instead on creating cohesive structures within each track, makes this album one of the milestone releases of 2009 so far.
Conclusion. In spite of its technical brilliance and authentic progressive approach, “Exivious” is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. Strongly recommended to musicians and fans of complex, challenging music, it should however be approached with caution by those who prefer a higher measure of melody and accessibility with their prog. To the latter listeners, the likes of this album may come across as definitely daunting.
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