Based on their promotional choices, bizarrely themed shows, and desire to tour almost as soon as they formed (unfortunately thwarted due to vehicular issues), I already assumed Five of the Eyes were an ambitious group of dudes. I had the pleasure of playing a pair of shows with the band a few weeks back which only confirmed that these guys mean business. Fortunately for them, this is actually quite the anomaly.
Based on my own observations, there are a shocking number of artists who are seemingly ashamed to actually push their music. Embarrassed by rejection perhaps, or maybe feeling like promoting is the local equivalent of selling out, it's refreshing to see an act who really believes in what they do and have no shame in shoving it in people's faces. This comfort and confidence also, thankfully, extends to the stage.
Darrell Foster was born to be a frontman and I would not be surprised to learn that he has reptilian blood. He is always moving, slinking around the mic stand, occasionally busting loose with footwork that recalls James Brown and Michael Jackson. He can also sing his face off, and even when notes aren't perfectly hit, Foster is the kind of singer that you can't help but respect for having the balls to go for it, all the way, all the time.
Peter Griffith is an unstoppable force on the kit and crucial in keeping things in motion. Bassist Tom Meehan is locked into Griffith's beats and never stops moving, and Ned Rich and Tim Meehan are guitar wizards. This is intense music that you can dance to, and each performer allows some sort of entry point, playing energetically complex parts that still have enough melody to follow along.
Transitioning this juggernaut to record has not been without its issues. While their debut self-titled EP was a great introduction, it seemed a little too derivative of their Mars Volta-indebted sound to really give an idea of what the band themselves had to offer. Their new EP, HIEROPHANTASM (released in early February), finds Five of the Eyes discovering more of their individual identity but still lacking enough actual songs to really stake their claim.
That's not to say that there aren't enough ideas on this new record because the four songs here are jam-packed full of them. Instrumentally and lyrically, it just doesn't quit, to the point that when the first of multiple false endings came about on "Burning Sands," I thought, "That can't be it." It wasn't. The final minutes of this track are also where I finally felt I could hear the real Five of the Eyes. Elsewhere, the elements of the Mars Volta still exist alongside elements of Rush, Radiohead and Incubus. Foster specifically, whether intentionally or not, changes up his delivery to emulate the singers of each, sometimes within the same song.
Opening track, "Nacreous Cloud" is probably the strongest cut here with some great prog-riffing and a tight chorus. "Is the universe against my thoughts / Why does it all seem so lost?" Foster belts on one of the most memorable, and intelligible, hooks. "Eta Carinae" has fun with different time signatures and feels, letting more of the memorable moments come from the instrumental interplay. Though the songs occasionally feel like too much of everything all at once, return visits reveal specifically defined structures.
The only real misstep is the first half of "Hotel Hell," which reminds me of The Jacksons' "This Place Hotel," in that it features the nastiest of grooves and the goofiest of concepts. Luckily, the second half features the most intense, out-there work on this offering.
HIEROPHANTASM, like their debut, was self-recorded (so again, kudos to the band for making it happen) but the downside of that is this is supposed to be dynamic music, shifting between dreamy and brutal, and those sonic changes just aren't as drastic as they need to be. The heavy moments are heavy but they don't rip your head off like you know the band is intending them to.
They also have yet to find "the song" that will really allow them to just take over. I'm sure they're sick of the Mars Volta comparisons, but even they had "The Widow" to allow more casual listeners something to grasp. Nothing Five of the Eyes is doing is crazy to the point of being alienating, but there has yet to be any sugar to help the medicine go down.
I have no doubt that the band, given their work ethic and obvious ambition, will only improve and may tap into something that we can't even imagine. I'm honestly very excited for what these guys decide to do next and sincerely hope they continue to grow into their individuality. For now, HIEROPHANTASM offers a step in the right direction.
HIEROPHANTASM is available at https://5oftheeyes.bandcamp.com/album/hierophantasm