Exivious: Not Liminal, But Fully Manifest

  • Dave Mustein

Though it’s the prototype of “intelligent” metal, progressive instrumetal is certainly no longer the only intelligent subgenre of metal. Both conceptually and musically, myriad artists are thinking past gore and power chords to dense networks of conceptual and compositional complexity. But bands can’t rely on superior technical skill and ostensibly intellectual concepts to push their music’s appeal; complicated music that doesn’t consider its affect translates as lifeless and uninspired. As you’d expect from the band members’ impressive resumes, Exivious understand the difference between theoretical intelligence and intelligent execution. On Liminal, the band’s most cohesive work to date, complexity serves to deepen emotional evocations instead of acting as the focal point of the music, resulting in an undeniably modern album that’s simultaneously organic and orchestrated.

Since Tymon Kruidenier’s and Robin Zielhorst’s 2010 departure from Cynic, Exivious’s music has become both less cynical and less like Cynic. Liminal is a curious, questioning release, but it’s optimistic; approaching confidently and whimsically in place of the hesitant trepidation that characterized some of the band’s earlier work. Liminal laboriously arranges slabs of sparkling tonalities into flawless pyramids of consonance (and occasional dissonance). Like the most abstract modern architecture, the structures can appear peculiar and angular, like the melding of triumphant sax shred with an uneasy, shifting groove in “Deeply Woven.” But these occasionally incongruous elements coalesce into a concrete, innovative structure whose beauty and intelligence are less blatant and more subtly subjective than many instrumetal albums.

The band’s intimate awareness of balance enables the effectiveness of their oblique approach. Heaviness is used sparingly – unlike other projects that fuse metal with jazz, crescendos are naturally built up instead of being crammed into every almost-open space. This tendency to make every moment on a fusion album simultaneously both jazz and metal renders such combinations unmemorable or even nigh unlistenable to most people. In these artists’ attempts to balance the two halves, they push too much and render things unbalanced.

Liminal is more self-conscious. Rather than trying to shoehorn everything into a busy monolith of jazz-metal, Exivious know when it’s best to separate the elements and when it’s best to combine them. Liminal breathes; the rise, fall, and flow are more gradual, more natural, rather than the extreme peaks, valleys, and transitions that plague many fusion artists. Transitions are more intense and more appreciable; because we haven’t been flattened by 8-string grooves for half an hour, we can really dig into the distorted rhythmic punch of chromatic closer “Immanent.” Dissonance manifests as a fleeting curiosity throughout “Triguna,” then resolves with a brief but frantic spasm that would likely have been drawn-out and diluted for ten minutes by a less aware artist. The band members resist the all-too-accessible urge to dive into tech-wank territory: technicality isn’t the focus here, but a by-product, preventing the music from overwhelming us with miles of sweeps and marathons of time signature changes. Yuma van Eekelen’s beats rarely approach traditional or extreme metal, eschewing double bass abuse in exchange for creative, driving snare experimentation.

The only valid criticisms here are more criticisms of the genre than of this specific release. Liminal is accessible listening, but it’s not for everyone – nonmusicians will be able to appreciate the album’s emotional evocations, but may get somewhat snared in the sheer amount of instrumental complexity contained within each song. It’s pensive music, not meant for every situation and certainly not an album to keep on constant repeat. Its value lies in its capacity for subjective interpretation, but some people would rather have their interpretations laid out in front of them. Liminal is no such album.

The real glory here is that despite its modernity, and despite how forward-thinking Liminal comes across, it’s neither diluted nor overly digital. It’s obvious that Liminal has been elaborately thought-out and thoroughly calculated, but its overall aesthetic is lush and natural, a rare characteristic even among less complicated productions. Exivious blur the line between organic and synthetic, weaving aspects of one into the other. Rich, silky tones combine in futuristic and intelligent harmonies that never feel artificial. Individual sound quality and the vastly improved production quality make this possible; the guitars in particular account for a rainforest-dense spectrum of voices. Tymon Kruidenier’s hand tone is impeccable, gliding from nuanced, breath-like swells into staccato, mechanical bursts of manipulation and squirrely, Jarzombekian leads. The cohesive but chimeric nature of Liminal ensures that it intrigues for the vast majority of its forty-five-minute runtime, and more than ever reinforces the fact metal does not necessarily need vocals to humble, empower, and awe.

Exivious’ Liminal comes out November 12 on Season of Mist. Check out the track “Entrust” here and pre-order the album here.

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