A step back in time, but with a modern approach
Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania, U.S.) duo Zombi really is a genuine oddity within the music scene. The fact that the band is signed to Relapse Records, and that the pair (keyboardist/bassist Steve Moore and drummer/keyboardist Tony ‘A.E.’ Paterra) rarely relies on guitars to flesh out their space/progressive rock sound has confused many within the metal community, and just as many who reside outside the scene. Despite the general confusion surrounding the band, and the love/hate relationship the band shares with the overall progressive rock/metal scene, Zombi continue to forge a unique and interesting niche for themselves, with their latest (and fourth) full-length album Escape Velocity guaranteed to fuel further debate about Zombi’s rather different take on the standard progressive genre.
Those familiar with Zombi’s past works will already know that Zombi never set out to emulate the same sound and direction on an album twice in a row, as evident on their darker and atmospheric 2006 effort Surface To Air, and its guitar enhanced and overall heavier sounding follow-up Spirit Animal from 2009. So with that in mind, I was expecting something quite different with Escape Velocity. And sure enough, Escape Velocity proved to be completely unexpected.
On their latest album, Zombi appear to have taken a huge leap back in style and sound, with the duo taking influences from Krautrock bands such as early Kraftwork and Neu!, and shades of Vangelis, and filtered it through a distinctly ‘80’s musical filter to come out with a completely new take on minimalist progressive/new wave rock.
The best example of the band’s newfound minimalist approach to song writing can be found on the opening title track Escape Velocity. The basis of the song is really quite simplistic, with the central keyboard theme rarely deviating from its basic sweeping key changes, but it’s underneath where the pair really gives the song its heart. The ever-present rapid synths that run throughout provide a solid footing for the whole track, while the gradual introduction of rhythmic drums give the song some human elements that otherwise wouldn’t exist without them. Escape Velocity is essentially a really simple song, but produced in such a way that it’s hard not to get drawn into its hypnotic beat and heavy percussive driven flow.
The short Slow Oscillations doesn’t stray too far construction wise from that of the opener with a pulsating keyboard structure underpinning huge sweeping keyboard tones that provide the song’s character (outside the steady flow of drums of course), while Shrunken Heads is a product of Krautrock with its repetitive keyboard motifs, ‘80’s synthesised drum beats and almost Blade Runner like washes of keyboard contrasts thrown over the top throughout.
Rather than rely on one central idea, DE3 seems to branch off in several different directions, with the pair giving more thought to creating greater textures of overlaid rhythms, keyboard riffs and textures. As a result, this song definitely comes across as the album’s strongest, accomplished and memorable efforts.
Finishing up the album is Time of Troubles, which closes out the album in a slower and more reflective manner with its John Carpenter-like thick keyboard tones and laid back drums.
Zombi has never been the easiest of bands to categorise or to describe but that’s not my objective here, because if you weren’t a fans of Zombi’s work in the past, this release isn’t about to change your mind. If, however, you enjoyed Zombi releases in the past, and have found yourself totally absorbed the subtle shifts in direction from one release to the next, trust me - you’ll thoroughly enjoy Escape Velocity.
(Relapse Records/Riot! Entertainment)