Released: 2016, Eihwaz Recordings
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Like its predecessors, the third album from Texas quintet Vex paints from a wide sonic palette. Here, that encompasses melodic death metal, black metal, post-metal and even some Southern rock – like the twin guitar leads on “Nowhere Near” and “August 11” - all played with a progressive spirit.
It sounds almost like someone plopped Enslaved down in the heart of the Lone Star State - especially in Joe Jackson's scabrous vocals – though without the Floydian excursions. Sometimes desolate, always expansive and often thunderous, the album forgoes the folkiness of the band's previous album Memorious and aims for something both more visceral and cerebral.
Sky Exile is certainly more complex and involved, with every song – save for a three brief instrumentals – seeming an epic unto themselves, even the comparatively shorter “August 11” or the Deftones meets Bathory-like “To Anacreon (Strangling the Muse).” As such, and at nearly an hour long, Exile can seem overwrought, especially on tracks like the meandering eight-plus minute “Dark Skies Painted” and the seven-minute “30 Miles From Here” that follows it. But when it's on the mark, as it more often than not is, it's quite brilliant.
That includes the album's longest song, the aforementioned “Nowhere Near,” an at times eerily Skynrd-like epic that anchors the first half. The contrast of rootsy rock, booming death metal hooks, snarling Satyricon-like black metal bluster and ethereal, dissonant jamming is startling yet always compelling. “The Cygnus Light” is another gem. More streamlined, it nevertheless is light on its feet with its metallic hulk yielding to an acoustic break midway before erupting in black metal fury. “Solar Sacrament” is more consistently brutal, but boasts an almost funky bottom end to add another splash of color.
The songs here rarely stay in once place for very long, which helps the band avoid the drone-a-rama of similarly epic Cascadian black metal, even if it borrows some of its atmospherics. As such, Sky Exile makes for quite a journey by a band that show, yet again, a willingness to keep adding new textures and nuance to their sound - and not merely tread the same patch of water. They might not always quite hit the mark, but kudos to them for their moxie to keep trying.