Thursday, April 16, 2015

Album Review: Exovex - Radio Silence

By and large, when you're dealing with bands that fall under the category of progressive rock, there are two camps; the bands that are influenced by Yes/Genesis, and the bands that are influenced by Pink Floyd. In fact, the majority of the music that falls under the category of neoprog is derived from the works of Pink Floyd, to the point where it's become maddeningly dull for people who were never the biggest fans of that spacey sound to begin with. I lump myself into that category, so when a new progressive rock band comes along that bears the hallmarks of Pink Floyd, but who manages to make something effectively different, it's worth taking note of.

The core of Exovex's sound is Pink Floyd, but they branch off in more modern directions, so they are not falling into that common trap of mimicking the past too closely. The guitar tones as the solos soar are reminiscent of David Gilmour, but they fill songs that are more lively and energetic than any of the other bands that have tried to fill that niche.

“Stolen Wings” slowly opens the cover on the story, with swelling sounds, and gorgeously recorded acoustic guitars. As a big fan of the natural sound of acoustic guitars, it's a pet peeve of mine when they sound unnatural, but the recording here is pristine. In fact, the entire production is stunningly beautiful, with lush, clear sounds and a balance that strikes the right mix of loudness and dynamics. Being able to accurately hear the vocal inflections that are put into the performance is a necessity, and as the song unfolds, it's easy to hear that despite being progressive rock, there is great care being paid to the songs themselves. There are plenty of searing solos to go around, but the emphasis is never taken away from the vocals, which carry beautiful melodies to balance the compositions in an accessible manner.

“Metamorph” is a smoky, slow-burning track that relies on beautifully tracked harmonies, before the meter changes through the instrumental second half. The progressive touches are subtle, and well-integrated, never beating you over the head with their indulgences. That's the way progressive music should be; challenging, but still song-oriented enough to be appreciated on a surface level. That's what Exovex gets so right about “Radio Silence”. If you dig deep into the layers of sound, there is plenty of details to be heard, but you can also listen to it on the glossy surface and come away with a highly melodic bit of modern prog.

“Seeker's Prayer” is the record's centerpiece, nine minutes that encapsulate everything Exovex is about. There are tender harmonies, layers of instrumentation, and the heaviest riff on the album, which almost brings them into metal territory. What's best about it is that while there are so many different pieces to the song, they get put together in a way that makes sense, and they're all memorable in their own way. Nothing is put into the mix just for the sake of it. And the last two minutes, with harmonies and solos sitting atop the acoustic guitars might just be the best section of the whole record.

The only complaint I have about the record is the same one that befalls much of prog; the instrumental sections can sometimes drag on too long for my tastes. When the entire second half of songs are filled with guitar playing (and this is good guitar playing, let me say), it's easy to have my mind drift off. I like knowing there's something that will return to anchor the song. That being said, “Radio Silence” is the freshest take on the modern prog sound I've heard in a while. It is recognizable in its influences, but original enough to not be derivative. Exovex is the right answer to the accusations that modern prog is all about musicians indulging their propensity of showing off.

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