Sunday, March 11, 2012

Zodiac N Black - The Aftermyth

What happened to the Rock?  Where did it all disappear to?  The once thriving genre of the late ‘60’s and ‘70’s seems to have evaporated for the most part due to intentional corporate interference and genre-ocide.  The self-proclaimed ivory tower bean counting experts who think they know what’s best for our tender earholes systematically thwarted and conditioned the collective thinking process and purposefully bottlenecked society’s mass market choice through relentless, pulverizing bullshit marketing.  I’m talking about North America specifically of course over the last 20 years or so.  Sure there’s still rock, hard rock and metal bands around (God bless ‘em!) fighting the good fight in back alley clubs and yes some of us still get the occasional large venue gig, but for the most part it’s few and far between compared to our neighbours across the pond.  Ask anyone of these bands if it’s been an easy ride and you already know what the answer is.

Thankfully things are different in Europe, and parts of South America and Asia as well.  There’s a resurgence of rock that’s been stirring for a while.  People there just seem to “get it”.  They eat it up in a big way.  They’re not carpet bombed by the big brother entertainment conglomerates like we are here.  Solid band after band I know have gone and are going across the pond, not just once but repeatedly to tour because they know there’s a ready, willing and ravenous audience(s) waiting to eat them up live over there.

This makes me jealous as hell.  Remember when you were a kid and somebody down the street threw a birthday party that you weren’t invited to?  Yah, that feeling (my shrink assures me the Xanax will help).  Just look at the looong list of live shows in countless clubs in countless cities in countless countries with massive outdoor festivals everywhere from Sweden to Germany to Spain to Belgium to jolly old England and beyond.  Hell, the UK alone seems to have a big ass live spectacle every other weekend as soon as the warm weather hits.  Which brings me to today’s band - “Zodiac N Black” hailing from Britannia.

England’s had their fair share of kick ass rock bands over the same period of our drought - Black Moses, Raising Sand, Span, Firebird, Gentlemans’ Pistols, The Answer (OK, Ireland), Grifter and The Treatment just to name a few.  After hearing their entire forthcoming debut release “The Aftermyth”, Z’N’B can take their rightful place in this pantheon of modern British rock.  Dare I say… NWOBHR?

What struck me first and foremost about Zodiac N Black is this is the first rock album I’ve heard in a while that’s a true amalgam of instrumentation.  There’s no one standout in the lineup.  It’s more about the collective than any individual instrument.  All of them contribute equally and strongly as a cohesive, restrained unit.  What’s the saying?  “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts?”... or something like that.  Well, that’s what we have here.  A real team effort in terms of songwriting, performance, production and mix.  So before we press on, I must first tip my hat to engineer/Producer Alex Newport (The Melvins, The Mars Volta, Sepultura) on a job well done.

The other thing that struck me about these guys is their unique, adventurous, spirited approach to the crafting of each song.  They make a point of forging down sonic paths not often tread in their genre.  What pushes me over the brink with bands on the likeability scale is if they make a point of leaping off and exploring previously unchartered territory both lyrically and musically.  ZNB does both.  And quite pleasantly and surprisingly.  This is the mark of a great record in my books.  You know the kind of special album that just keeps on getting better with each subsequent spin?  Which in turn, also increases the shelf life immensely.  Sure, there’s no mistaking the blend of influences here from greats like Soundgarden, QOTSA and the mighty Zep to name a few.  Those comparisons have already been drawn.  But like all great bands full of promise, they elevate their sound to another level by making it their own.  Let’s dive in, shall we?

BASTINADO opens with some obscure progressive chord choices for a non-prog band.  I like!  And I like the fact that they’re not afraid to revisit that headspace again on several tracks.  This smokin’ ‘lil rocker’s full of sweet ass bass runs and catch-you-off-guard drum fills.  The rhythm section in this outfit never seems to take a back seat to the front end.  It’s a straight up, balls out package with some choice cut heavy rockin’ hooks and an arresting chorus.  Your earholes will drool when they’re treated to the Druid inspired, gothic-like reprieve about 2/3’s of the way through.

Not surprisingly, A NECESSARY EVIL emerges with a haunting, echoed intro.  Then just when you’re being lulled into a slippery slumber, the boys drop a tasty in-your-face lick right in your lap.  They really show off their song writing prowess here with lots of variety in terms of chord progressions and timing changes with a meaty, bass driven bridge and a refreshing guitar overlay.  Not letting up on the gas for a minute, they deliver a nice, laid back ringing reprieve with some nut busting trade off noodling between the guitar and bass.  Then they bring it home with a smokin’ hook near the end and wrap up with a pedal to the metal rocker finish.  A solid rock song with tight delivery.

The unmistakeably inspired scent of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name” is all over the beginning of ONLY THE LONELY.  But rather than dwelling on Tom Morello’s infectious genius, the ZNB boys again take a path less trodden and make it their own.  This is a solid plodding rocker that smacks of the Gracious Few at times as well (it’s all good!).  They break open the bass line again in the middle with some distant, ethereal voxwork before hitting an unexpected shift in the bridge.  In true ZNB fashion, the lads climb on that train with impunity and simply take it to a whole other musical headspace, changing up the pace and arrangement along the way.

THE JOKE IS ON US again has a mellower bass driven start that thematically lingers almost halfway through the song before it’s obliterated by a punishing riff that kicks in with full band compliment.  Not deviating from their overall exploratory musical direction, the boys once again deviate (tricky,n’est pas?) and follow some unexpected twists and turns with the lead chord choices and vocal progressions.  A highlight is the sweet, rolling bass stops compounded by a rip roaring solo overtop.

BETTER OFF DEAD takes a more upbeat stance as a drawn out rocker.

SEEMS LIKE BETTER TIMES explodes out of the gate like hellfire on a Harley and doesn’t let up!  The band breaks open the relentless gallop about three quarters of the way through with a well-poised bottomed out refrain.  Then they jump right back in the driver’s seat fueled by a scorching solo.

WHO’S THE FOOL (PT.1) opens with another mellow, haunting intro. that evolves into a stunning duo with just voice and clean electric.  The rhythm section quietly slides in about three quarters of the way through some very subtle chord progressions.  This song’s a total Zippo… *cough* /Android/iPhone/Windows phone/Blackberry (it pains me to add those) in the air anthemic rock ballad.  What’s interesting about this track is right at the end you expect the song to burst into a whole other secondary sonic universe.  I mean it SCREAMS for it damn it! (hence the PT. 1 perhaps?).  Opportunity missed IMnotsoHO but gorgeous song nonetheless.

Like some earlier tracks, BAD PILLS pulls the pin right off the top with a solid, funky assed riff and resounding chorus.  When you hear this tune, you just KNOW these guys would be great live!  The song boasts a couple of nice bridges as the band bend, twist and attack the main hook from a variety of different angles throughout the tune keeping it interesting and engaging.  “Bad Pills” is a pounding, thundiferous rocker!
MAKING AN ENEMY is probably my favourite track on the album.  It starts with a brooding, discordant opening reminiscent of Soundgarden and launches right into a complex, high energy bridge.  This is a great, great song.  I even detect a coincidental hint of Ripple’s favourite sons Stone Axe in here.   Just a hint.  Essentially this track is an uptempo rocker that proves Zodiac N Black are capable of laying down some smokin’ chops when it comes to putting ink to paper.  They prove time and time again they CAN pull a proverbial sonic rabbit out of the hat.  And just when you think they’ve tied a nice bow on it, the lads take it up yet another notch in intensity!  They tightly deliver an awesome bottom end with distant, ethereal guitar licks that transition straight into a fire breathing solo.

LIGHTS ON BLUES is a 10 minute and change blues rock monster.  The heavy percussive opening is joined by a dissonant, plodding chord arrangement on both guitar and bass.  They pull back to an otherworldly, exploratory, heavy rockin’ reprieve in the middle and then suddenly kick it into high gear about 5/6’s of the way through with some bad ass guitar and rhythm section trade- offs, drum fills and a soaring solo.  Awesome pounding finish!  Yet another example of how often these fearless cats charge headlong down a musical path less travelled.  Like I said earlier, it’s taking those kind of creative risks that make a band great. 

Zodiac N Black are vocalist Jad, guitarist Jim, bassist Hank and drummer Luca.


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