Album Review: EXIST So True, So Bound
In many of my reviews I reference the powerful usage, or sometimes lacking amount, of dynamics. In this context, the term encapsulates the rise and fall of either volume, tempo, or just overall musical intensity. But in this case, Exist's music takes advantage of what I would consider 'scene dynamics' regarding the tech-death scene. Although bands like Beyond Creation and The Zenith Passage are maintaining the subgenre's strength and identity, there needs to be a band every once in a while to shake things up in order to create a sense of unpredictability. With this release, I feel that the band's stylistic choices and execution allows the technical death metal scene to feel alive and most importantly, dynamic.
With an EP and full length album already stuffed away in their back pockets, the Maryland-based proggy death metal group Exist have inched further into the spotlight with So True, So Bound. Their previous releases caught some curious attention, but with this powerful LP and an inevitable tour to accompany the record, this band will likely spread their name widely across the metal community. Known for his work in Cynic, Defeated Sanity, and Death to All, Guitarist/vocalist Max Phelps is backed up by the solid lineup of bassist Alex Weber (Jeff Loomis), guitarist Mathew Rossa, and Drummer Hannes Grossman (Necrophagist, Obscura). And just in case these bands seem too 'old school' or underground for you, Periphery's Nolly Getgood hopped on to mix the entire album to give it some modern metal flair.
The opening piece, "Take My Picture" reveals Phelps' past work with Cynic very much present. The dreamy vocals and bass line presence oozes of Paul Masvidal, Sean Malone, and Sean Reinert. While some may deem this a "ripoff" of the aforementioned trio's signature style, I would debate against such nonsense for a few reasons. Firstly, Exist's previous release, Sunlight, held similar attributes. Secondly, Phelps' participation in Cynic's live shows gives him the right to proudly carry the torch. And lastly, I would argue that a majority of this album has unique qualities that deviate from the stereotypes one may pair to the 2008 Traced in Air release. For example, "Happily Ever After (For a Week or So…)" has Steven Wilson-like vocal harmonies delicately placed between the death growls, a perfect example of musical dynamics from the intro paragraph.
"So True – Imitation's Flattery" completely blindsided me. The intro deathcore chug was topped with a spastic guitar noodling and finally followed by smooth vocals alike to Mike Patton. Although the term "progressive metal" has implied characteristics, this composition felt truly progressive regarding the song's unconventional structure and evolution. Death to All's other guitarist, Bobby Koelbe, is featured on the Fallujah-esque track "To Sever the Strings," which clocks in at over ten minutes. Other tracks on here like "So Bound – One of the Herd" and "Fault's Peaks" create heavy, yet immersive atmospheres through effect-laden guitar riffs. Last but not least, I'd like to point out Alex Weber's fantastic input to this record. There's something about fretless bass in metal that is just inherently orgasmic. As much as I love Obscura and Beyond Creation in full, I'm secretly waiting for the fretless bass parts to peak in the mix and reveal its strangely blissful qualities. Luckily, there's plenty of moments amongst these eight compositions that the bass is proudly showcased and it sounds absolutely magnificent.
Being halfway through the year, I'm starting to realize the amount of strong releases are stacking up, but So True, So Bound is a serious contender for my Top 20 list. Although I hadn't invested time into their previous releases, after listening to this album all the way through, I consider myself hooked and am eager to see their live show and later output. Exist is not only technically impressive, but progressively forward-thinking and therefore able to be dynamic in the sense of both music and the limitations of their genre. If you're a fan of intense, intelligent music, this group is very much so worth looking into.