(In this post TheMadIsraeli provides a detailed review of the new album by Baltimore-based Exist, which was released on August 28th by Prosthetic Records.)
You ever hear a band that has remarkably talented musicians, some definite top-tier songwriting chops, and unique sound elements to distinguish them, but you felt like they themselves were their own worst enemy in achieving the pinnacle of what they could do?
That was Exist for me.
Exist’s last full-length So True, So Bound was a good album, but I found this band extremely difficult to talk about or even quantify and I found that record, while good, to be inconsistent. This mainly came down to Exist getting stuck in a rut, in too much of a focus on atmospherics and passive sorts of grooves. These guys really want to be Cynic 3.0 in the worst way, and that’s not meant to be a knock in any way shape or form. Except unlike Cynic, they don’t forget their death metal roots, which leads to a progressive experience that kind of mixes the best aspects of newer Cynic combined with the primal emotion and intensity of albums like Focus, Death’s latter-era work, or even Atheist’s commitment to discernable nonsense.
So True, So Bound had some just absolute 10/10 bangers, like the record’s two leading singles, “Take My Picture” and “Happily Ever After (After A Week Or So…)”:
But the album also had plodding nonsense like its closer “Fault’s Peaks”, which just kind of went nowhere and felt like Exist recycled all of their signature tricks into an almost passive closing song. See what I mean? I was conflicted on these guys big-time.
There’s no question Max Phelps, the band’s vocalist, lead guitarist, founder, and composer is a talented vocalist. But he has a clean vocal tonality that will definitely not sit right with some people (I’m in the camp that likes his clean vocals… enough) and sometimes it just felt like they would be better served having nothing but harsh death metal vocals all the time.
The tl;dr version of this is that my interest and investment in this band has a lot of peaks, valleys, twists, and turns, much like the music they themselves are dedicated to writing.
But I liked So True, So Bound enough that I was more than eager to see what they would do with the next record. I was a big fan of the new album’s two leading singles, exactly as I was with the last record, those being “Spotlight’s Glow” and “Infinite Monkey Theorem”. Expounding on this requires a bit of back-tracking though.
So, for those who are uninitiated, Exist in my mind are kind of a love-letter to the early wave of progressivism present in death metal, but with modern 2020 craftsmanship and technical ability applied to it. Everything that Cynic, Atheist, and latter-era Death were grasping at in their heyday, Exist are trying to bring the absolute potential of all those ideas into reality. They try to capture the deliberate composition, the atmosphere, the technicality, the dissonance, all in equal measure, and for the most part they are successful. The problem their last album suffered from was a lack of diverse tempos, and their somehow diverse yet limited approach to songwriting. Most songs on So True, So Bound were groovy or sort of doomy and never really left that realm.
So, the reason Egoiista‘s leading singles got me interested was because within those two songs, all my gripes about this band were addressed. “Spotlight’s Glow” is a faster, thrashier song that calls back to bands like Pestilence and Coroner, and “Infinite Monkey Theorem” did more to expand on tempo changes and showed a better commitment to writing more memorable and emotive melodies during the softer, quieter moments of the music. There are a lot more explosive, more purely metal, moments on this album. That alone makes it superior and more consistent in quality than its predecessor.
But is it good? Is it worth your time and your money to support these guys?
My answer is a pretty emphatic yes… with qualifiers.
As much as this is an extreme metal blog we run here, and as much as I’m almost a slave to the blasphemous trilogy of thrash, death, and black metal, I also love progressive, weird, avant-garde shit, power metal if it’s well done, and more. Egoiista is an almost 50/50 balance of dissonant chaos that sounds like sonic mental illness and beautiful melancholy bits of jazzy clean guitars and ridiculously well layered clean vocal harmonies. I can 100% appreciate and enjoy an album like this, but it may touch too many bases for some.
The opener, “Through Suffering He Paints The Universe”, has a gorgeous clean guitar and vocal interplay intro that’s rather long, a minute plus, that is also used as a leitmotif in the halfway mark and end of the record for a really cool sense of far-reaching composition cohesion. The way it becomes a long-term swelling and build-up toward a plodding swamp of angular, dissonant riffs and impassioned Schuldiner-esque screams feels earned. That’s really what Exist are best at doing with their dynamics, EARNING the intensity of their heavier moments.
It sets the stage wonderfully for the gauntlet of “The Lottery”, “Until The Storm Comes”, and “Infinite Monkey Theorem”, which all see different approaches to the riffing and the chaotic dissonance explored while being full of great central melodies that the band return to in varying ways, with “Infinite Monkey Theorem” doing this the best. There’s a pretty experimental, definitely not metal, song that comes next in “Siblings Born Into Different Dimensions”. It’s just a wash of lush, sci-fi kinds of layers with some synthesized vocals, and it bleeds into “Egocosm”, the first song that revisits the opening theme of the record. The way “Egocosm” reworks this theme, multiple versions of it, while this time being darker and more death metal than the origin of the theme, is great. The heavy, more atonal rendition of that theme at the end of this song is golden.
A transition track leads into “Spotlight’s Glow” and then we find ourselves at closer “Amongst The Trees”. This song is a nearly nine-minute de-construction of that first minute of “Through Suffering He Paints The Universe” with a lot of dynamics in play, but it’s mostly just a really cool long-term meditation on a fucking great motif.
Exist are like… progressive death metal with heart, if that makes sense. I thoroughly enjoyed Egoiista, and more so than before, I’m pretty excited to hear what they do next. They’re an interesting band to get wrapped up in, and one thing I do know is that this record will stand out in 2020, whether it’s because people think it’s good, people find it oddball and challenging, or maybe because some will be where I was in 2017 and thinking these guys still haven’t quite hit their stride yet. Regardless, I’m looking forward to seeing where the Exist experiment goes from here, as Egoiista is a massive musical step up. Catch you guys later.