Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Zu - Goodnight, Civilization (Trost Records, 2014) ***½
It’s been over three years since their last show, five years since their last album (the awesome “Carboniferous”) and during this hiatus they’ve even lost a member (drummer Jacopo Battaglia). Meanwhile, Luca T. Mai and Massimo Pupillo seemed more interested in their other projects. Until recently, things didn’t look too good for Zu, so much so that I declared them deceased in my review of Mombu’s “Niger”. And yet, here they are, alive and kicking, with a solid new EP called “Goodnight, Civilization” and with announcements of a new LP and a new tour.
One thing that is immediately noticeable is that this not the same Zu that we last encountered on “Carboniferous”. First of all, their new drummer Gabe Serbian comes from a grindcore/metal background which means that the much beloved rock-themed rhythm section is now pushed towards a more extreme variant. Unfortunately, this also implies that the drumming patterns lost some of the exquisite feel and nuance present in Battaglia’s playing. The additional energy and dynamics that Serbian brings into the sound slightly mitigate the apparent scarcity of jazzy rhythmic elements. But the drumming is not the only thing that has changed. Zu have been altered from the inside and their basic structure and substance appear as if morphing and mutating. This metamorphosis is exhibited in the form of philosophical and worldview permutations which have deep implications in the music: Mai’s experiences with Mombu, Pupillo’s collaborations with various jazz musicians and his several years of detachment from western civilization bring a certain distress and disquiet to our preconceived notions about Zu. While all of the characteristic, recognizable ingredients of their music are still here (the deep grunt of the baritone saxophone, the distorted bass guitar, the chaotic power of the music), on every other level there are easily noticeable shifts. Towards what? Hard to say. Towards something more brooding and ominous, that’s for sure. A metaphysical transformation has taken place and Zu have returned from the dead even darker and more disturbed.
To better understand who and what the new Zu really are, we’re going to need more than just three songs and eleven minutes of music contained on the EP. The only thing that we know for certain while listening to their two new original tunes and a cover of a song by The Residents is that Zu are still an exciting and creative band. The title track, “Goodnight, Civilization”, shows glimpses of what Pupillo found while on his sabbatical, flashes of his new perspective and sources of inspiration. The bass sounds incredibly distorted and tortured, the drums hit deeper and harder, and even if the saxophone is partially buried in the mix, it’s powerful and wild sound still reigns supreme. Impressive, in any case, and it is in these moments that you feel that we’re still dealing with our good, old Zu. The second track, “Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars”, delves even deeper into the problems and pathologies of modern civilization by investigating obscure corners of conspiracy theories and mind control. The short EP is brought to an end by a really good cover of The Residents’ Easter Woman. I’m not particularly fond of covers in general, but this one is done so well you’ll forget it’s not their own song. The tradition of having well-known guest musicians on their releases continues with Mark “Barney” Greenway from Napalm Death providing grunts and growls on the final track.
All in all, Zu have risen from the dead, surviving and cheating death, and came back just a bit traumatized by the rebirth. A savory appetizer that leaves us wanting more.
P. S. I had a chance to see Zu live a few weeks ago and, indeed, the band didn’t sound as tight as I’m used to hearing them. There are some issues with the drumming passages, with the way that Serbian’s style feels flat and monotonous at times, especially on older songs. A sort of uneasiness in the playing resides in the air, uneasiness that I’m sure will be gone as soon as they have a few more concerts under their belts (this was only their second show of the comeback tour).
The EP can be downloaded from Bandcamp.