Zozobra is a tantalizing idea for a band. They are a two-piece outfit that is comprised of Cave In member Caleb Scofield and a member of the criminally unnoticed Forensics, Santos Montano - both members also do time in Old Man Gloom. The question then becomes, knowing how else the members otherwise occupy their time, what will this band sound like? At least, this is what pops into my head as I initially play Harmonic Tremors on my stereo. The first time through the album is a shock (considering that my comparison is or should be Old Man Gloom). The second time, I am able to digest it better.
Harmonic Tremors jumps right out of the speakers with "The Blessing." This song sounds very much like half of a Cave In song. The bass sound is there as is the bellowed vocals of later Cave In. By leaving it at that though, the song is done a severe disservice and also proves that you are not listening close enough. There are strangely harmonized vocals. There is a sparse guitar that more likely compliments the furious rhythm and bass parts that propel the song along its way. The ambient sound pieces that take up space really give the song startling breadth and color while the drums continue to pound away.
"Kill and Crush" stands in stark contrast to the more intricate arrangement of "The Blessing." It is a noisy and punishing affair with heavy accents on the downbeats. The drum pattern has a nice feel and really fits the song. "Levitator" is another change of pace with booming drums and almost eerie vocals for most of the track. The simple guitar lead carries a nice melody that actually overshadows the bass. I love-LOVE the way that "Soon to Follow" degrades abruptly into a noisy crunch only to return right back where the song was prior to the bizarre interruption. It sounds very much like a Cave In song otherwise, save for the underlying keyboard part.
The droning melancholy of "Silver Ghost" gives Harmonic Tremors another dimension of complexity. I almost wish there were no vocals to muddy the drowsy feel that that the song projects. "Invisible Wolves" is a return to the more structured and intense bass driven songs with which Zozobra begins the album. "Peripheral Lows" contains a more experimental approach that makes it a kindred spirit to "Silver Ghost". It is very mechanical sounding and reminds me of something that Old Man Gloom might produce. "The Vast Expanse" is strange, but it features some excellent drumming by Santos. The album closes with the more subtle "A Distant Star Fades". The quiet melody is buried beneath a reserved current of feedback. Otherwise, the song is another that the Cave In influence shows. The vocal melody is also one of the stronger on the record. The song eventually explodes to give Harmonic Tremors a strong ending.
Zozobra caught me completely off guard with Harmonic Tremors. I expected a cross between the noisy, dense sound of Old Man Gloom and the sweeping, powerful melodies of Cave In. Well, that cross section exists, just not in the way I thought it would. Instead, the varied attack of Old Man Gloom is combined with the sweeter side of Cave In. The biggest surprise of the album is the strength of the material and its ability to show elements of the members' other work while retaining a level of uniqueness. It is a perplexing record in that way. In any case, I enjoy it thoroughly.
Those frustrated by the fact that Old Man Gloom is nothing more than a studio project that rarely tours can get excited - at least a little bit. Caleb Scofield and Santos Montano, two of the players of Old Man Gloom, have formed a new vehicle with a similar sound, one that actually tours: Zozobra.
Harmonic Tremors begins with "The Blessing." On the surface there seems to be a lot of similarities to the back catalogs of Zozobra's members (Old Man Gloom, Cave In, Forensics), but beneath it there lies much more. The most obvious difference can be found in the song structure. Rather than the obtuse and experimental sequences that are worked into Old Man Gloom, the song follows a more traditional sense of being. Granted, the song isn't in a verse/chorus/verse-and-repeat structure, it does contain a brief interlude of atmospherics in the latter portion. "Kill and Crush" is fairly reminiscent of the heavier aspects of Old Man Gloom's Christmas. The riffs pack quite a punch, the basslines are ultra-heavy, the drumwork of Montano is splendid, and Scofield unleashes his visceral screams over the top. Though, in contrast, there is a nice section towards the middle where he opts for a more harmonic approach; it gets even better when the two are layered together towards the end of the song - a really awesome juxtaposition.
Just when you think you've got this project figured out, "Levitator" throws you for a loop. The song opens with a mix of programmed drumming and simple guitar notes as Scofield delivers softly sung melodies - or as close to melodies as you'd expect to find in a metal band. The song has a real unique and ominous vibe to it; unfortunately it ends quite abruptly, leaving the listener rather unsatisfied and wanting more.
Throughout Harmonic Tremors, Zozobra continue to deliver an interesting mix of experimental metal. "Soon to Follow" picks up where the leadoff track left off; there are thundering basslines and even a little guitar solo thrown in for good measure. "Invisible Wolves" is another outburst of pummeling metal while "Peripheral Lows" emotes a Godflesh-esque quality. "Caldera" shifts things in the instrumental direction (save for a few ominous and hollowing harmonics) and features the addition of various guitar noodlings and electronic elements.
"A Distant Star Fades" closes out the album, and again the influence of the band member's other projects seeps through. The song has quite a Jupiter-era Cave In vibe to it, though I do get a slight Foo Fighters vibe too. This isn't a bad thing, nor should one find fault in this, it's just the closest reference point.
Initial expectations of Zozobra might run high for many; I know they did for me. Harmonic Tremors met them on nearly all levels. My only real gripe with the album is that some of the songs seem to be cut short. Nevertheless, Harmonic Tremors is an excellent debut that, with help from Clouds and Stephen Brodsky's Octave Museum, helps me forget about Cave In's hiatus.
8.0 / 10
Reviewed by 2 writers.
Zozobra returns five years after their excellent previous full length Birds of Prey; and now, Caleb Scofield (of Cave In and Old Man Gloom) brings forth Savage Masters. If you are not familiar with Zozobra, ...
Posted April 8, 2018, 10:02 a.m.
In late March, Caleb Scofield (Old Man Gloom, Zozobra, Cave In) passed away in a car accident. Hydra Head has opened a memorial fund to support his family through the ...
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