Earlier this year I reviewed an album by New York jazz musician Dan Weiss called ‘Starebaby.’ So far, it’s one of the most interesting albums I’ve heard this year, giving me an example of something that I hadn’t yet heard and to some extent felt that I never really would – metal inflected jazz, as opposed to the other way around. Taking influence from the abrasive, polyrhythmic styles purveyed by the likes of Meshuggah or the Dillinger Escape Plan (RIP), Dan Weiss and his band brilliantly incorporated those elements into their own eerie, precise and noisy take on jazz fusion. New York band Zevious’ new album ‘Lowlands’ feels like the other side of that same coin – a metal album with prominent jazz (and prog) leanings – which, unfortunately, takes away from the freshness of ‘Starebaby’s’ sound and sterilises it somewhat with what I consider to be some of the pitfalls of modern metal, especially on the overall tone and production side of things.
Or, that’s what I thought before I did a bit of Googling and found out Zevious used to be a full-on jazz band, and they used to perform music from their first album in jazz clubs – so I still think the Dan Weiss comparison is a valid one. Maybe a slightly unfair one, but it’s a thought I had upon first hearing ‘Lowlands’ and is a big part of why I wasn’t initially as taken by this album as I might have been had I heard it last year. If anything, I’m more intrigued by their older stuff, as it feels fresher to me due to my sheer lack of experience with jazz. But I now know that this is Zevious’ move away from a jazz sound which was apparently starting to encroach a little too far into progressive rock and metal territory, and going forward I’m going to discuss it as such. ‘Lowlands’ is the band essentially saying “screw it” and ploughing further into a world of distortion and dissonance than they had previously dared to do.
Which makes sense considering these guys are no strangers to the world of progressive and avant-garde metal, featuring Dysrhythmia’s Jeff Eber on drums, as well as Johnny DeBlaze (Sabbath Assembly) on bass and Mike Eber (Smother Party) on guitar. The band is a power-trio in the best sense of the term, with each member contributing as much sound as they possibly can to fill up their side of the mix. DeBlaze’s heavily distorted bass takes up basically all of the low-end and is so chunky that I’d never have believed that DeBlaze would have ever been able to hold back enough to fit into a jazz band; in fact, on my first (fairly passive) listen, I assumed that it was a second guitar line holding down those thick grooves. Jeff Eber is similarly impressive on the skins, successfully supporting each track through a harsh rhythmic landscape filled with weird meters and frequent time changes while still managing to groove within these constraints. Mike Eber fills out the higher end of the mix with distorted, dissonant and somewhat droning textures that would make Thurston Moore proud, as well as black-metal inspired tremolo-picking and guitar tones. And all this while still remaining reminiscent of a heavier version of John McLaughlin or ‘Red’-era King Crimson, mixed with characteristics of Meshuggah and – dare I say it – aspects of the djent sound.
The chemistry between the band members is beautiful – I shudder to think of what it would have taken to compose this music if that wasn’t the case – and although I do wish that the production had a bit of a rawer sound to it (I feel it would have done more towards the dark atmosphere that permeates the album) and also that the album was more dynamic overall, that chemistry shines through and is, in my opinion, the main drawing point of the album. The band strikes a good balance between power, musicianship and even surprisingly cohesive tension-building and song-writing. Each of the seven tracks offer a slightly different take on the same sound, be it Null Island’s post-metal tinged ambience, or the punky vibe of Ritual Based Symmetries or Slow Recall, or the comparative grandiosity of the closer Sensor Slow Reach. As hinted above, ‘Lowlands’ initially failed to grip me; it’s not one to reveal its charms easily to passive listeners. But it’s rating has been slowly creeping up the more I listen, and I suspect that if I had more time to let the album settle in my head it may prove to be a masterpiece of a grower. As it stands now, I think it’s good example of jazz-inflected metal, and happily recommend it.
Visit Zevious’ Bandcamp page HERE for more information on the album.