Since their founding almost a decade and a half ago, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania duo Zombi (made up of bassist Steve Moore and drummer A.E. Paterra, both of whom contribute synthesizer sound) have positioned themselves among the best contemporary groups inspired by the world of vintage horror soundtracks. Following a string of releases from 2002 through 2011 that found the band utilizing ever increasing amounts of electronics alongside Paterra's typically powerful drumming and Moore's funky basslines, 2015's Shape Shift finds Zombi once again seeming like a cohesive unit capable of tight live performance. That being said, the album exists quite – and maybe too - comfortably in line with Zombi's previous efforts: Moore and Paterra don't seem to really be taxing themselves here and many of Shape Shift's tracks start to test listener's patience for and tolerance of exceedingly repetitive music. Though some listeners will dig the heavy grooves and almost trance-inducing effects, the release may exude just as much lethargy as overwhelming atmosphere and won't redefine the space rock genre by any stretch.
Album opener “Pillars of the Dawn” demonstrates the now-standard Zombi approach to composition. Looped, arpeggiating synthesizer is the basic sonic ingredient, with Paterra adding tinging cymbal and forceful kick drum to establish a driven beat. Mood originates mainly from synthetic voice oohs and aahs, and occasional snare rolls and accents offer some rhythmic change-ups. This first track reminds me a bit of something like the old Airwolf theme: it's fairly invigorating, creating a sense of impending action or struggle. “Total Breakthrough” is similarly rousing, with ghostly melodic elements and a syncopated rhythmic scheme emerging after an airy introduction. Later on, a jerky, bass-driven section begins around the two-thirds mark and takes the track to its finish.
More lively in terms of its tempo, “Mission Creep” settles into a nifty groove of murmuring synth and grumbling bass, but doesn't change all that much during its three minutes. Afterward, a very prog-like synth solo kicks off “Interstellar Package.” Moore works on developing an eerie mood with his ambient synth chords while the rhythm section provides some punch to the proceedings, but the comparatively lengthy track lacks the variation needed to make it truly dynamic. Old school synth tones dominate the subsequent two tracks: “Diffraction Zone” culminates in a Goblin-like climax that gives the otherwise sluggish and dull piece some life, while the fuzzy “Toroidal Vortices” has a pleasantly relaxed feel prior to its frantic finale.
The lonely mood of “Shadow Hand” and apprehensive tone of “Metaverse” are perhaps their most noteworthy aspects, and the album concludes as most other Zombi albums do: with an extended, very spacy jam track. Conjuring the spirit of Russian composer Eduard Artemyev (he most famous for having done the soundtrack to various Andrei Tarkovsky films), Moore and Paterra might as well have intended “Siberia II” (and maybe the whole of Shape Shift) as an alternate soundscape for use in Tarkovsky's difficult but fascinating and utterly transcendent 1979 film Stalker. This hypnotic beast of a closing track unleashes the album's most genuinely appealing beat (replete with Latin percussion accents) along with electronics that swirl, sweep, buzz, and gurgle over omnipresent, very mysterious-sounding synth. It's a definitive slow-burner on an album that's full of them, but I'm inclined to call “Siberia II” superlative.
If one approaches Shape Shift strictly from a musicality standpoint, it might come across as a well-performed but unexceptional curiosity - or at worst an infuriatingly pointless and boring listening experience. Those who allow it to creep into their very being however may really enjoy it: the album almost effortlessly inspires the subconscious. Still, I can't help but feel that this represents lateral movement if not an honest step backward from a band that's probably a love-it-or-hate-it act in the first place. Zombi fans would eat this album up, but I could go either way on it.
6.0 / 10
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