Texas hardly seems like a hotbed for progressive or technical death metal, but rising from the Lone Star State is Vex, a band that would sound more at home among the ranks of Darkthrone or Absu than Pantera. Their newest release, “Memorious” attempts to bridge the difficult gulf between the distanced ideals of both death and prog as we commonly know them.
Vex deserves a lot of credit for doing some key things right, not the least of which is that they avoid the trap of relying on the conventions of their genre as a crutch. The very label “progressive death” evokes images of artists who are apt to take the lazy way out, subscribing to the idea that merely making a bucket of noise to different time signatures is somehow enough. Vex, by contrast, measures the possibilities of their undertaking, blending styles and methods rather than simply bashing a reluctant square peg into a reticent round hole. Nothing on “Memorious” is done without reason.
That said, there is a feeling-out process with Vex, both for them as musicians and us as the audience. There is disconnectedness for much of “Memorious” as Vex turns the puzzle pieces and makes them fit. The transitions, as seen in early album cuts like “Terra Soar,” aren’t always smooth, and some of the songs boil down to a series of well-executed compositions that aren’t always on the same string.
Vex makes up for this by performing all of their styles well, whether the soft opening of “Astride a Grave” or the melodic death of “No Such Thing.” The artists’ talent is not in question.
Right toward the end of “Memorious,” in a sort of accidental climax, the gears all click into perfect unison, and the possibilities of Vex’s machine unfold. For “Those Days Are Gone,” the transitions between harsh and light or death and black, weave seamlessly, escorted by an artful, relatable melodic guitar lead. In this moment, Vex shows their strength.
“Memorious” suffers from two shortcomings, neither of which is really Vex’s fault. First, “Memorious” sounds like it was recorded under a highway overpass. The sound is thin, echo-y and without a strong percussive presence. Audiophiles who yearn for crisp sounds and well-placed accents will be driven to frustration here.
Aside from that, the nature of progressive death metal is that it requires patience. It is not a genre given to hooks or instant gratification and “Memorious” is no different. It is hard for this album and this genre to escape the feeling that you can walk away for a few minutes and not miss too much. There are no memorable choruses or singular moments of grandeur.
Vex’s “Memorious” is an album worthy of examination and also worthy of some celebration, but it is hard to recommend it as an everyday listen. Those with the time and patience for the intricacies and complexities of progressive or technical death metal will find some reward, but Vex’s new record does not transcend the constraints of its splinter genre.