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Vex - "Sky Exile" (CD)

Vex - "Sky Exile" CD cover image

"Sky Exile" track listing:

1. Dry River Days
2. To Anacreon (Strangling The Muse)
3. Empyrean
4. Antithetical Age
5. Nowhere Near
6. The Cygnus Light
7. Solar Sacrament
8. Dark Skies Painted
9. 30 Miles From Here
10. August 11th
11. Astral Burial

Reviewed by on August 11, 2016

"...this is one of the most dynamic albums you’ll hear..."

“Sky Exile,” the third full-length recording by Central Texas’ Vex, can be downright savage in moments, although they mix it up with plenty of melody. Musically, their brand of metal certainly follows a melodic format. However, especially in the vocals, the group has more in common with black metal than melodic death. There are soft parts throughout the record, but there are also blast beats and chilling, single-note guitar passages. The album recalls great melodic metal albums such as Tiamat’s “Wildhoney,” Opeth’s “Morningrise” and, in particular, the first two records by Agalloch.

The comparison to Agalloch may seem eminent as Vex toured with them two years ago. While that tour may project the idea that Vex is similar to Agalloch, an educated fan will find similarities throughout the album. The acoustic parts are in line with “The Mantle,” while many of the black metal and small-string notes convey “Pale Folklore.” “Dark Skies Painted,” a song that even bears a title reminiscent of “Pale Folklore,” conveys both of these aspects. “30 Miles From Here” is another track that brings to mind Agalloch, specifically the chiming guitar notes that set the track into motion.

Speaking of chiming guitar notes, “Antithetical Age” shows Mike Day and Ciaran McCloskey create a riff that is both sparkly and doomy. It brings me back to a guitar chord on Tiamat’s song’s “Visionaire.” “The Cygnus Light” also has a doomy riff at the end of the track that is just the cherry on top after a series of twists and turns. Opeth fans will revel in the song’s acoustic parts. Those fans should also check out the track “Nowhere Near.” Around the 3:20 part, the guitars take a graceful turn not unlike some of the rhythms produced by the Swedes on “Morningrise.”

While the guitars are the main attraction on “Sky Exile,” the vocals and drums are nothing to overlook. The group employs black metal’s tried and true method of fast drums out of time with the slower guitars. The guitars never get too fast, mostly following a medium pace, which is when Owen McCloskey's speed up results in a “running in place” kind of tempo. McCloskey shows his chops through a series of fills and rolls during the psychedelia (think "The End" by The Doors) of “Dry River Days,” and gets primitive during the fiery, paganistic outro “Astral Burial.”

Screecher Joe Jackson keeps the vocals scything. Other than a brief moment of clean voices on “Antithetical Age,” Jackson’s voice harshly rips and tears. Even though his voice is scathing, his lyrics are easily identifiable. Part of that has to do with the mix, as the guitars and drums don’t over power his voice.

“Sky Exile” is melodic, malevolent and experimental. If I had a complaint about the album, which I don’t, it would be the samples and experimentation. Even though those facets help the band build their dynamics, and this is one of the most dynamic albums you’ll hear, it does negate some of the energy. All in all, though, “Sky Exile” is a fantastic listen from front to back. While most bands blow their load on the first recording, Vex continues to progress and create better albums. Expect to find this album in my top ten of the year list.

Highs: Sky Exile is a very dynamic album, which the group pulls off extremely well.

Lows: Some of the samples and experimentation negates the energy.

Bottom line: Exceptional melodic death/black metal.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)