Hijacking The Zeitgeist

rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. Blue Light Infinite
02. Thief Of Joy
03. Hijacking The Zeitgeist
04. Funeral Toll
05. A Path To Nowhere
06. One Degree Removed From Human
07. Window To The All

There comes a moment in every discerning prog metal band's journey when gymnastics are no longer enough. EXIST can hardly be accused of making inaccessible or overly indulgent records in the past: 2020's "Egoiista" had plenty of melody and ingenuity to balance out the band's sometimes overweening dexterity, and their two previous records were very nearly as absorbing. But something has changed here, and it's an evolutionary step that has brought the very best out of this undeniably talented quartet. "Hijacking The Zeitgeist" is still a frequently bewildering listen, but there is a snappiness and sharpness of focus to these songs that makes them, in their own willfully intricate way, the most immediate and appealing of the band's career.

Never is this more true than on opener "Blue Light Infinite". Twists and turns are part of EXIST's identity, but this sub-four-minute gem has melodic charm and graceful dynamics in bountiful supply. Even as riffs butt heads in a frenzy of polyrhythmic euphoria, the sense that all extraneous fat has been stripped away is hard to avoid. And much like their most obvious spiritual brethren in CYNIC, EXIST never shy away from beauty: "Blue Light Infinite" gleams and glimmers, where many like-minded bands would remain tethered to aggression. Similarly, "Thief Of Joy" delivers plenty of the expected progressive death metal showboating, but it ebbs and flows with great elegance, exuding great emotional heft, while the title track is a dark, nail-chewing maze of riffs and syncopated contrariness that wanders off into gloopy fusion territory whenever it feels like it. In less capable hands, music this intricate could easily descend into an indulgent farce, but EXIST are masters of atmosphere and groove, both of which play a huge part in these uniformly ingenious pieces.

Tech-inclined metal records are not generally known for their subtlety, but "Hijacking The Zeitgeist" is well equipped with the stuff. "Funeral Toll" is a genuinely pretty tune, attached to a cleverly stripped-down arrangement that builds and surges in unexpected ways. It comes replete with a sinuous melody that slowly disintegrates into screams and discord, as EXIST's skilled shade-blending reaches another apex of modern prog classiness. The closing "Window To The All" is even more dazzling. Despite having some of the most overtly tech-death moments on the album, it's a prolonged feast of rhythmic and melodic waywardness with a faint aroma of noirish theatricality.

Elsewhere, "A Path To Nowhere" joins sludgy, bellicose riffs with hazy, heat-ravaged melodies, gentle gusts of prog rock wistfulness and a miraculous, lissome guitar solo; while "One Degree Removed From Human" offers a melting pot of math metal and grandiose death metal elements, with melancholy jazz chords poking out through an otherwise muscular and grim-faced façade. Again, despite its superficial complexity, it is one of the most immediate and memorable songs this band have recorded to date.

A unique voice in an overpopulated prog metal marketplace, EXIST have hit a new sweet spot here. If you're going to show off, always do it with this much style.

Author: Dom Lawson
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