Artist: I Exalt
Album: Servant – EP
To live on this planet is to be enslaved to something. Maybe it’s as superficial as being stuck at a dead-end job you despise under a boss or supervisor you loathe. Maybe that’s not it—but then there’s a good chance you can’t go a single day without seeking validation on some form of social media or stuffing your head with useless information from the television or Internet. And somehow, if you—the level headed, joyfully employed and responsible Facebook-er—manage to escape all of those, you likely live your life under the pretense of some religion. To some degree, you are indentured, a Servant in one fashion or another—and Australia’s I Exalt are here to break you of your chains (especially those keeping you captive to the latter clause). Furious technicality meets in a head-on collision with brilliant songwriting and brutalizing breakdowns to provide exactly what the land down under is known best for—evil, energetic, eviscerating deathcore. Servant is a stellar display of sinister aggression that sees I Exalt evolving from the sound of their debut release and creating something more intelligent and intense than anything on their breakout effort.
Instrumentally, Servant takes the more chaotic and frantic segments of Vessel and expands upon them, minimizing the moments of ethereality that punctuated I Exalt’s debut and replacing them with groovier, bouncier portions that will doubtlessly keep the listener’s head bobbing incessantly. This isn’t to say that there is a complete absence of atmosphere on Servant—as percussionist Mason Page provides softer, jazz-influenced patterns during “Dialect” and ambiance at be onset of “Lobotomy.” However, Page primarily relies on scathing blast beats and bold, fleet-footed kick drum patterns to serve as a jumping off point for riffs and grooves from guitarists Fraser Ray and Matthew Gelling. The closing portion of “Lobotomy,” for instance, sees Page working dynamically with bassist Nick McClounan to lay down one of the most insidiously catchy grooves deathcore has seen in years—while Ray and Gelling have no issue keeping up. “Formless” sees the band working in the opposite fashion—with Ray and Gelling filling breakdowns with furiously fretted fills, spending a majority of the song ravaging the listener’s ears in scalding riffs; all the while, Page serves as the band’s steady heartbeat, working with McClounan to give every moment of the song punch. Servant is a dynamic, incredibly written instrumental effort that sees I Exalt making a name for themselves with masterful metallic prowess, combining influences from several genres and styles to make a soundscape as crushing as it is catchy.
Creating a towering bastion to all that is progressive deathcore with a comprehensive display of instrumental skill, I Exalt in the process throw a curveball at vocalist Daniel Konstantinou. Servant is almost entirely absent of atmospheric elements that were in abundance on Vessel, forcing Konstantinou to push harder vocally, while simultaneously testing his diversity and range to avoid monotony. With footing that would make Fred Astaire blush, he manages to dance around both potential pitfalls—providing a powerful and punishing display of vocal domination that would silence the boasting of most veteran vocalists. By No means an amateur, Konstantinou’s eerie, rasping wails on “Dialect” segue into one of the most intense conclusions to any track—proving his meddle while going toe-to-toe with Martyr Defiled’s Matthew Jones. “Black Mass,” meanwhile, hammers home his raw mid-range shout—as the track fades into oblivion with Konstantinou contemplating his own existence and the futility of mankind. Pick any one song on I Exalt’s latest release and the outcome will, without a doubt be the same—complete and utter awe at Konstantinou’s ability to mesh with the rest of the band while still standing out as an extraordinary vocalist.
While a brief display of blistering brutality, Servant is just that: blistering. With not a hint of monotony to be found in its approximately 20 minute runtime, and plenty of lyrical, vocal and musical ingenuity to please the listener’s ears, Servant is, simply, superior to a majority of the efforts of I Exalt’s peers. Punishing from start to finish, constantly energetic and densely packed with dynamic displays of devastating deathcore, there isn’t much to say for Servant that I Exalt haven’t included within the confines of the album. While it is early in 2016 to predict front-runners for year-end lists, I would bet the farm that many people will remain servants to I Exalt’s sophomore effort for many months to come.
For Fans Of: Iconoclast, Martyr Defiled, Signal the Firing Squad, Boris the Blade, Oceano
By: Connor Welsh