Vexier, from the Latin “vexare,” meaning to plague or to irritate, or from the German “Vexierbild,” meaning a flipped image, or even a puzzle game in some dialects. What does all this have to do with the newest release from Switzerland’s doomgaze golden children E-L-R? A lot, actually. While I wouldn’t say this album is going to plague you, the idea behind it is that it should vex you a little bit. It should get under your skin and make you want to unwrap more layers, make a couple more moves to solving the puzzle, try to piece out the original from the image.
Formed in the town of Bern back in 2016 by the mysterious duo of bassist/vocalist I.R. and guitarist/co-vocalist S.M. (this is a band that sure loves their acronyms, huh?), the duo quickly became a trio with the addition of drummer M.K., and with that they released their debut Mænad, which quickly garnished them with accolades aplenty. These critical and commercial successes eventually led them to opening slots on tours with the likes of Amenra, Hangman’s Chair and Dark Buddha Rising. Of course, all of that came to a halt right around two years ago, but in that time, the trio decided to take their time with Mænad’s follow up and really hone their craft, because what else can you do? When the time came for Vexier to see the light of day, they didn’t even have to leave Bern to get the job done. The end result is something much more expansive and textural than their debut, while still retaining their signature blend of slow and heavy, doom-laden psychedelia with plenty of post-metal flair. It is quite a nice sweet spot between the hypnotic, transportive post-metal/-gaze style that I almost instantly gravitate towards, but without sacrificing any of the heaviness that is inherent with doom. Rounding out the sound, the band even includes subtle field recordings of their home country, which pop in and out in between the crushing riffs and pounding drums.
Ultimately, Vexier is an album that was recorded with the intention of leaving a lot to be uncovered from under the surface. The absolute drenching of the sound in layers of distortion and reverb seems to fill up every cubic inch of sonic volume, and at first it seems like the only thing there to focus on is the wash of guitars. However, by design, repeated listens are crucial to getting the most out of Vexier, as each new listen conveys a hidden melody that slipped by the first time around or a cool passage that, while not lost, may have passed by unnoticed at first. Not that there isn’t a lot to appreciate in the immediate. Right off the bat, the thing that E-L-R does superbly is incorporate tension and release into their riffs and chord progressions. I feel like the connotation of post-metal or anything-gaze is that it has to be overly sweet and beautiful, so it’s really refreshing to see a band like E-L-R embrace a little bit of chaos and discord while still keeping that sense of melody intact. The little bends in guitar lines that are just slightly off or the chords that clash just the right amount are what I think separates Vexier from others in the same pack. E-L-R have a really wonderful sense of dynamics and feel, which they use to great effect in successfully stretching one or two musical ideas into an eight-to-twelve-minute song multiple times on the album. It’s definitely a testament to the work they put into their songwriting skills while holed up unable to tour, and it gives even more little hidden nuggets to seek out and discover over the course of multiple listens.
Vexier is a strong showing from a group that clearly is honing in on a unique niche in the world. There isn’t a whole lot out there that sounds exactly like E-L-R, and it seems like they’re just getting started. While Vexier does leave them with a lot of room to grow still, this is an album that is going to keep people occupied for quite a while, just trying to solve that puzzle once and for all.