Tymon Kruidenier - guitars
Michel Nienhuis - guitars
Robin Zielhorst - bass
Stef Broks - drums
Hailing from the Netherlands, Exivious were first formed in 1997 by guitarist/vocalist Tymon Kruidenier, who is also a member of ground-breaking 'jazz-metal' outfit Cynic, and plays on their 2008 reunion album, Traced in Air. It will not therefore come as a surprise that, musically speaking, Exivious follow in Cynic's footsteps. Unlike the US band, though, by writing vocals out of the equation they have removed one of the main hurdles for would-be listeners of the more extreme fringes of prog metal. Indeed, no matter how intricate or proficient a band's music may be, the use of growls (or similar styles) can be a major turn off for those accustomed to the more 'traditional' varieties of progressive rock.
As is the case with most instrumental albums, Exivious requires careful listening in order to be fully appreciated. It is definitely not the kind of stuff you can put on as a soundtrack for other activities - complex music, full of twists and turns, yet not unnecessarily complicated, or weird for weirdness' sake. In fact, the music has a beautiful, natural flow, a clarity and melodic quality that not many would associate with 'extreme' metal. Even though guitars make up a prominent part of the sound, they never get to the point of overwhelming the other instruments. As in most jazz-fusion, the foundation of Exivious' sound lies in the rhythm section, especially in Stef Broks' jaw-dropping drumming.
One of the 'plus' factors of this album is its short running time, which prevents music as complex as the one on display on Exivious from turning into a mere exercise in technical prowess. Opener "Ripple of a Tear", the longest track at 7.30 minutes, shows evident jazz-fusion influences, with clean, almost relaxed guitar licks alternating with heavy, sharp riffs, and an arrestingly beautiful guitar solo. The second longest item, "Waves of Thought", shares in many ways the same 'rollercoaster' structure, shifting abruptly from aggressive riffing and soloing to an almost spacey mood, with keyboards echoing faintly in the background, sparse drumming and chime-like guitar sounds; while the heavily bass-led "Embrace The Unknown", with its extended synth guitar solo, is an almost textbook-perfect example of 'fusion-metal'. On the other hand, some other tracks impress instead for their understated, laid-back mood - namely both parts of "All That Surrounds", featuring some distinctive, water-like effects in the second half; and "The Path", with a beautiful, atmospheric guitar solo in the middle, and very little trace of the band's trademark, hectic riffing.
Head-spinningly complex without being cold and sterile as other similar efforts, "Exivious" can easily be listed as one of the top releases of 2009 so far. In fact, the band's sterling musicianship, coupled with an admirable sense of restraint, focuses on creating cohesive, highly listenable tracks rather than on pointless displays of technical skill. However, it is also an album that will definitely not be everyone's cup of tea. Strongly recommended to musicians and fans of intricate, challenging music, it may come across as daunting to those progressive rock fans who prefer a higher measure of melody and accessibility. 4.5 stars out of 5.