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Zombi - Surface to Air

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Artist: Zombi

Album: Surface to Air

Label: Relapse

Review date: Jun. 1, 2006

Pittsburgh duo Zombi shouldn’t be on Relapse. Or at least that’s the most common first reaction to the moody, proggy music generated by bassist/keyboardist Steve Moore and drummer/keyboardist A. E. Pattera. With no vocals and no guitar, how can this be metal? Well, it doesn’t take long to realize that Zombi probably don’t care at all about being considered metal. Their music is dense, often heavy (as on the punishing, low end riff of the title track), and possesses an occasional brooding streak, but they don’t shred or really evince any of the hidebound conventions of the genre. Rather, the two players lock into complex, helix-like rhythmic patterns that are explored – as with a palimpsest – from multiple angles on somewhat lengthy performances.

Now, these days you can throw a dart and hit some bass/drums duo on the heavy end of things – take Om, Ruins, Lightning Bolt, or Hella, just to name a few obvious examples. But Zombi pursues what I can safely say is a completely different take. Imagine if Isis or Mogwai listened far less to Neurosis or My Bloody Valentine when they were growing up, and far more to Saucerful of Secrets or 2112 (there are Peart-isms all over this disc, although it’s hard to deny the influence of fellow PGH’er Damon Che on Pattera’s drumming as well).

Zombi seem to exult in vintage sounding music. In fact, all the keyboards they use (and there are lots of them) are vintage, with spaceships levitating and shooting stars wanting to streak past the analog confines, but it doesn’t quite sound retro. Even if that initial sound puts you off, if you’re patient, the dense, interlocking grooves (like the infectious 7/8 “Digitalis”) will get to you. And in that, I feel Surface to Air is more successful than their previous entry, Cosmos (which definitely didn’t have enough edge for me).

The tunes can be epic and one can imagine how it would inspire reverence among a certain crowd. The pieces revolve around the use of layering and riffs, and there usually isn’t too much harmonic complexity (save on the title track). This works best on long pieces like “Legacy,” which are hypnotic and almost trance-inducing. But some of the vintage whoosh and bleep sounds will infuriate other folks. The biggest offender in this regard is the closing “Night Rhythms,” which opens with canned B-movie atmospherics and is the least consistent (though it does evolve slowly into a nasty whipcrack of a riff).

By Jason Bivins

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