When Exivious’ self-titled debut album was released two years ago, followers of the more extreme fringes of progressive metal were not be surprised to learn that the band followed in Cynic’s footsteps – since both of the band’s founders, guitarist Tymon Kruidenier and bassist Robin Zielhorst used to be members of the ground-breaking ‘jazz-metal’ outfit. Unlike the US band, though, by writing vocals out of the equation Exivious removed one of the main hurdles for would-be listeners of this somewhat controversial subgenre. Indeed, no matter how intricate or proficient a band’s music may be, the use of growls (or any similar styles) can be a major turnoff for those accustomed to the more ‘mainstream’ varieties of progressive rock.
As is the case with most instrumental albums, Exivious requires careful listening in order to be fully appreciated. It is definitely not the kind of stuff you can put on as a soundtrack for other activities – complex music, full of twists and turns, yet not unnecessarily complicated, or weird for weirdness’ sake. In fact, the music has a beautiful, natural flow, a clarity and melodic quality that not many would associate with ‘extreme’ metal. Even though guitars make up a prominent part of the sound, they never get to the point of overwhelming the other instruments. As in most jazz-fusion, however, the foundation of Exivious’ sound lies in the rhythm section, especially in the jaw-dropping drumming patterns provided by Stef Broks (also a member of Dutch prog-metal band Textures).
One of the plus points for Exivious is undoubtedly its short running time, which prevents music as intricate as this from turning into a mere exercise in technical prowess. Opener “Ripple of a Tear”, the longest track at 7:30 minutes, shows evident jazz-fusion influences, with clean, almost relaxed guitar licks alternating with heavy, sharp riffs, and an arrestingly beautiful guitar solo. The second longest item, “Waves of Thought”, shares in many ways the same ‘rollercoaster’ structure, shifting abruptly from aggressive riffing and soloing to an almost spacey mood, with keyboards echoing faintly in the background, sparse drumming and chime-like guitar sounds; while the heavily bass-led “Embrace The Unknown”, with its extended synth guitar solo and the contribution of Cynic’s guitarist and founder Paul Masvidal, comes across as an almost textbook-perfect example of ‘fusion-metal’. Some other tracks impress instead for their understated, laid-back mood – namely both parts of “All That Surrounds”, featuring some distinctive, water-like effects in the second half; and “The Path”, with a beautifully atmospheric guitar solo in the middle, and very little trace of the band’s trademark hectic riffing.
Head-spinningly complex without being cold and sterile as other efforts in a similar vein, Exivious can easily be listed as one of the top releases of 2009. In fact, the band’s sterling musicianship, coupled with their admirable sense of restraint, focuses on creating cohesive, highly listenable tracks rather than pointless displays of technical skill. However, it is also an album that will definitely not be everyone’s cup of tea. Strongly recommended to practising musicians and fans of intricate, challenging music, it may come across as daunting to those fans who prefer a higher measure of melody and accessibility, as well as a more conservative approach to progressive rock.
Fans of the band will be glad to learn that, after having briefly split up in the spring of 2010 due to conflicting schedules and commitments, at the end of last year Exivious got back together, and at the time of writing are preparing for a European tour.
1. Ripple of a Tear (7:30)
2. Time And Its Changes (4:39)
3. Asurim (5:31)
4. All That Surrounds: Part 1 (3:38)
5. Waves of Thought (6:24)
6. The Path (5:45)
7. All That Surrounds: Part 2 (3:39)
8. Embrace The Unknown (4:44)
9. An Elusive Need (4:39)
Tymon Kruidenier – guitars
Michel Nienhuis – guitars
Robin Zielhorst – bass
Stef Broks – drums
Paul Masvidal – guitar (8)