Texas death metal drivers Vex unearth torment of drought on mind-bending new ‘Sky Exile’

VexThere aren’t a ton of concept records about the weather in the metal world. I guess we can argue Immortal’s discography roughly could be argued as counting since all of them focus on a fantasy ice world. But for the most part, this is an area that doesn’t get a lot of attention conceptually over an entire album.

That didn’t deter Texas-based death metal band Vex, whose new record “Sky Exile” takes on the heat and scorched earth that was a very real thing people experienced just a few years ago. Based on the 2011 Texas drought, the 11 tracks on this record are imagined as journal entries from the people of West Texas who endured that time period. It was a way for the band to further humanize the situation by imagining what those inhabitants went through during the heat and tragically small rainfall that year. The band’s travels through those areas, and the skeletons of abandon houses, led them to create this music, looking back on one of the driest, most destructive stretches in Texas history.

Vex coverWhile Vex are termed as melodic death metal, don’t go thinking the bulk of the indie metal label’s rosters. It’s nothing like that at all. It’s pure death infused with melody, as well as prog and folk. Having formed in 1998, the band has two other full-lengths to their credit—2010 debut “Thanatopsis” and 2013’s “Memorious.” Their dexterity and commitment to infusing passion into their music adds great depth to their work and doesn’t just soak you in brutality. What the band—vocalist Joe Jackson, guitarists Michael Day and Ciaran McCloskey, bassist Joel Miller, and drummer Eoghan McCloskey—accomplishes on this record is take an event such as the one from 2011, and give it treatment that’s equal parts heaviness and texture, fury and compassion.

“Dry River Days” is a brief opener that allows the door to creak, with swirling sounds and drums, and that leads into “To Anacreon (Strangling the Muse)” that tears apart. The pace chugs and the growls pierce, with strong riffs wailing and cool progginess slipping in. Clean singing then settles in, and the track heads toward “Empyrean,” another shorter track that acts as an interlude, blowing into “Antithetic Age.” There, the riffs hit hard as death throes arrive, with melody rushing in, and added progressive sounds showing fresh colors. The vocals switch back and forth between guttural growls and airy singing, as the bass work pops, and the track hits a new level of ferocity before it heads out and toward “Nowhere Near.”  There, the music has a bit of a Southern vibe, with slide guitars adding mood, and savage growls pounding away. Later on, the guitars stretch out and explore the sky, with the bulk of the song settling into psychedelic corners. Reflective playing then dissolves into static.

“The Cygnus Light” is a really interesting one and has a spacious start, churning and turning from there, with the grim growls telling the dark story. The song has its tricky moments, with some of the playing shaking your head around and rustic acoustics unleashing dust. Odd ambiance arrives, with a spoken passage sprawling, and a moody finish. “Solar Sacrament” unleashes the breezes again before hitting a crunchy path. Fiery vocals are unleashed, with the song getting heavier and meaner, and the final minutes jerking your neck all over. “Dark Skies Painted” begins with dark clouds settling overhead before the track bursts open with fluid playing that sometimes nears black metal realms and often is unforgivingly heavy. Toward the track’s end, the melodies well up high, as the song fades into sparks. “30 Miles From Here” starts flowing, with guitars dripping, and an explosive eruption taking hold. The bulk of this is slow driving, but ultimately heavy, with creaking growls piercing flesh, and a finish that sits in hypnosis. “August 11” has trudging power, as growls crawl over cleaner guitars before the seams are torn apart. There are parts that rip everything apart before acoustics mix in, and the track disappears into a trickle of water. “Astral Burial” is the interlude finale, a sense of relief as waters rush, footsteps crunch the ground, and fires crackle amid drumming and noise rumbling away.

While a drought might seem like dry subject matter on the surface, the humanity and passion the band puts into “Sky Exile” never even makes that thought cross your mind. The band has a creativity and style that sets them apart from a lot of the death metal world, and Vex’s multi-faceted approach always keeps their music interesting and engaging. This album is a bit of a grower, granted, but after a few visits with this record, it’ll soon start etching its way inside of you.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/vexmetal/

To buy the album, go here: http://eihwazrecordings.com/distro/

For more on the label, go here: http://eihwazrecordings.com/

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