Five of the Eyes drop sprawling first album 'The Venus Transit'

If I had a criticism prepared for The Venus Transit, the first full-length by Five of the Eyes, it would have been that the band registered too studiously as disciples of The Mars Volta, that cultish, amazing, inscrutable El Paso band. Based on a couple years-old live shows and scattered tracks online, I expected a total sonic fealty to the aughties post-punk prog group, maybe with a little At the Drive-In sprinkled in.

But that wouldn’t be fair, because the debut album by the Portland-based quintet covers a hell of a lot more ground. These nine songs have a lineage, both personally and musico-historically, and on Venus, expertly recorded by Jonathan Wyman at The Halo in Portland, the band play as if they’re rewriting the form.

The wriggling bassline of “Atmosphere” at track one will spark the hearts of elder prog wizards still crazy for early Yes. The modern and carefully calibrated “Wasteland” sounds like a thornier versions of A Perfect Circle (or maybe reconstructed late-era Incubus) before toppling into a stabby, arrhythmic post-hardcore outro like something out of a late, great Botch track. Little fronts as punkish here, but echoes of numerous groups who’ve made the transition from roots in both punk and metal — Boston’s Cave In comes to mind — float to the surface. In other words, Dream Theater this is not.

Depending on your preference, it could be a service that none of The Venus Transit’s tracks follow the prog party line to lengths approaching 10 minutes and beyond. Instead, all of them slot between four and five and a half. It’d be splitting hairs to argue that prog records don’t often function so conventionally; this could also be a sign of the group’s strength. Somehow, through the pristine recording and the whatness of the band itself, Five of the Eyes transcend the veiled cloak of the genre and somehow manage to sound like a pop band.

And none of this would be possible without frontman Darrell Foster’s bold, brazen, beautiful vocals. In press releases, the group willingly asserts similarities to Jeff Buckley, and while Five of the Eyes’ songwriting doesn’t allow for as much emotional range as Buckley’s did, Foster’s instrumental depth can certainly pull it off. The stunning half-ballad “Passenger” comes closest, the band swaying in a pressurized slow rhythm while Foster issues overtures — convincingly — like a half-ruined R&B singer. In “Mirrors,” Foster’s dynamic falsetto set alight by Tim Meehan and Ned Rich’s twining medieval-folk guitar lines. It’s enough to suggest that Five of the Eyes could be any band they wanna be.

To the best of my memory, Portland hasn’t sported a band like this. Groups have hovered around the post-metal, prog-rock fringes — the terrific Sunrunner comes to mind, as well as the ecstatic black-metal/folk group Falls of Raurus — but those projects are much different, and none have married music this complex with mainstream accessibility. If there’s a next step, Five of the Eyes appear ready to take it.

Let me level with you. This is a genre too often weighed down by indulgent, overwrought bands playing unnecessarily complicated music meant to make its players look intelligent and virtuosic while masking an intrinsic lack of inspiration or depth, generally topped off with wincingly bad lyrics. Five of the Eyes commit none of these crimes. These songs are carefully crafted and smartly arranged, and while some parts are indeed jawdroppingly virtuosic, the real feat is their ability to weave it all together as seamlessly and intentionally as they have here. There’s room for growth, sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if people came to swear by this record. It may be a masterpiece.

Five of the Eyes | The Venus Transit album release | with KGFREEZE + Mirth + In the Presence of Wolves | Sep 30 Sat 9 pm | Portland House of Music and Events, 25 Temple St, Portland | $10-12 | 

Last modified onThursday, 28 September 2017 14:56