Even though only less than a year passed between the release of Demo MMXVI and their second demo Cyclical Sentient Struggle, there’s been some serious evolution in Oregon-based Exulansis’s sound. Most notably, James (guitar/vocals), Alex (bass, vocals), and Mark (drums, vocals) added Andrea Morgan (also of Megaton Leviathan) on cello and vocals. While I can’t say for certain what effect (if any) the inclusion of a bowed instrument had on the songwriting process for Cyclical Sentient Struggle—I’m guessing not much, since she joined the band shortly before they entered the studio to record—but there’s no questioning the end results. This demo is a marked improvement over Demo MMXVI, which was actually pretty darned good in its own right, and has me anxiously awaiting whatever the band does next.
The main difference between the two demos lies in how much more dynamic Exulansis sounds the second time around. Demo MMXVI was a pretty harsh-sounding affair, blending elements of crust, sludge, and black metal to particularly misanthropic effect. On Cyclical Sentient Struggle, the crust and sludge have been toned down considerably, replaced instead by doom and dark folk elements in a similar vein as Isenordal. This difference can be best heard on “Sentience,” which actually appears on both demos. The d-beat heavy intro section on the Demo MMXVI version has more of a Neurosis-like feel to it on the rerecorded version, and the dropout section of the song pairs a much cleaner guitar tone with a droning cello part, and ends up sounding more spaced-out as a result.
The highlight of Cyclical Sentient Struggle, though, is opener “Cyclical.” The track builds slowly, starting with what sounds like a Mike Scheidt-influenced guitar figure and subtle cello backing, which eventually leads to a section of layered male/female clean vocals completely unlike anything on Demo MMXVI. The track continues to build in intensity before eventually opening up into some more straight-ahead tremolos and blasting around the six-minute mark, at which point the more familiar black metal elements are a much welcomed release. I’m really hoping that this track is an indication of where their songwriting is heading, because I could definitely get down with an album’s worth of material in a similar vein.
If I have one complaint about Cyclical Sentient Struggle—and I know I’m going to sound like kind of a dick here, because this is a demo—it’s that the cello is often difficult to pick out of the mix. However, as our loyal Vault Hunters are well aware, I’m a total sucker for bowed instruments in metal – I always want them to be more prominent in the mix. That being said, listeners have something to look forward to on the next release. If it fully integrates the cello into the music, and if it also incorporates some of the violin that Morgan has also started playing live with the band, then Exulansis has the potential to produce something truly special indeed.
Cyclical Sentient Struggle is now available digitally and on cassette from the Exulansis Bandcamp page.