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American quartet Exist have been cranking out superb progressive/technical death metal for nearly 15 years. Rather than drastically retool their sound, they’ve consistently refined the balance of devilish aggression, jazz fusion instrumentation, and soothingly clean passages that first impressed fans on 2010’s In Mirrors EP. Their latest LP – Hijacking the Zeitgeist, which follows 2020’s Egoiista – raises the bar once again. Bolstered by a significantly new lineup, the record is a typically immersive ride whose nuances, symmetry, and economical runtime will make you want to return to it as often as possible.

As with all of its predecessors, Hijacking the Zeitgeist is led by guitarist/vocalist Max Phelps (Cynic) and bassist/vocalist Alex Weber (WAIT). Drummer Brody Smith (Satyr) returns as well; however, the LP marks the departure of longtime guitarist Matt Rossa. In his place is Charles Eron (WAIT), who also handles synth duties. Regarding the switch, Exist clarified via Facebook in October 2023:

“Simply stated, Matt felt that his time with us had run it’s [sic] course and … it was time for him to move on. While we’ll miss Matt’s talents, comradery and hilarious antics, we respect his decision and … will always consider him family … Charles Eron has played a huge role on this new album with his diverse ear, guitar playing and soundscaping talents. Charlie has already had a great musical relationship with two of us for years in his project WAIT and has been on the scene since the early days of the band, so it feels quite natural to welcome him to the fold.”

Indeed, Eron does plenty to ensure that the group sustains everything that’s worked so well for over a decade.

As for creating the record, Phelps comments that it was “the most fun [they’ve] had making an album,” adding: “Musically, I think it represents a new era for the band with both a heavier sound and much more compact arrangements. Maybe it’s fair to say that it’s akin to our “Permanent Waves” or “Moving Pictures” (for the Rush nerd, like us) in terms of the band’s trajectory from the last few albums.”

Although it’s not that much of a departure from prior releases, Hijacking the Zeitgeist‘s 36-minute runtime definitely helps it become Exist‘s most easily digestible yet perpetually engaging collection thus far.

Plus, their tried-and-true fusion of invigorating growls and calming singing are on full display throughout the sequence. Opener “Blue Light Infinite” – a song about “the addictive and deceptive nature of our obsession with technology,” Phelps explains – offers a particularly gripping example of that back-and-forth brilliance. Elsewhere, “A Path to Nowhere” and “One Degree Removed from Human” follow suit with equally captivating results, whereas “Funeral Toll” somewhat overlaps the two approaches to mine ethereally enticing riches.

Those tracks definitely justify comparisons to acts such as Death, BTBAM, Fallujah, Persefone, and yes, Cynic. So, too, do the challenging and flexible – yet never overly ostentatious – arrangements. In particular, “Thief of Joy” features sublime juxtapositions of stampeding riffs and rhythms beneath (or around) transcendental guitar notes and restfully atmospheric detours. Afterward, both the title track and “Window to the All” tap into vibrant jazz fusion jauntiness.

Exist have outdone themselves yet again with Hijacking the Zeitgeist. Beyond introducing Eron as a great replacement for Rossa, it sees the band as a whole upholding their excellence in every way imaginable. While their earlier records never felt verbose, the fact that this one is considerably shorter only serves to make it more focused and replayable as well. By all means, check it out as soon as you can!

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