Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Zu Carboniferous

(Here's the rare CD review that somehow didn't make it. This was a really bizarre CD, but I liked it...even though it gave me a headache for the rest of the day.)

Zu Carboniferous
(Ipecac IPC110, CD)

The latest from Zu is a tall, slim floorstanding model that uses…wait a minute. Oops, I’ve got the wrong notes. No, this Zu is an chugging, guttural metal/jazz/punk trio from Italy that makes Rob Zombie sound like an 18th century fop in comparison. While their last album with Nobukazu Takemura, 2006’s Identification with the Enemy: A Key to the Underworld was a jagged, avant-garde free-for-all that borrowed liberally from Frank Zappa, Ornette Coleman and others, Carboniferous is a lean and determined freight train of sound that will make you a) clench your fists and pump your noggin rhythmically, b) jump in your car, throw it in the CD changer and stomp on the gas or c) reach frantically for the Extra-Strength Tylenol and the volume control.

After you listen to the first few of these churning, instrumental maelstroms, you might be surprised at how axe-free these metal assaults actually are. Zu is actually a guitar-less trio, with Jacopo Battaglia on drums and electronics, Massimo Pupillo on bass and Luca T. Mai front and center with baritone sax. That’s right--much of the buzzing and rumbling on this album comes from a member of the brass family. Some of the more industrial elements are augmented by synthesizers and Pupillo’s crunchily mechanical bass, and guest guitarists do appear on the songs “Chthlonian” and “Obsidian,” but Mai controls this beast via a mouthpiece and an ordinary reed.

The sound quality fares better in the occasional quiet reflective parts, especially when Battaglia and Pupillo engage in simple yet muscular counterpoints. At full blast, this recording suffers from a bit too much compression and sounds a little homogeneous. I wondered if this was one of those classic cases of “LISTENER: TURN THE VOLUME WAY UP” from the ‘70s, but tiny birds started falling out of the sky outside of my house when I indulged. While this may ultimately fall into the category of Music to Play When the Party Is Over and You Want Everyone to Go Home, it is performed with uncommon precision and imagination. The only slight bow to convention is the appearance of Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle), who sings on “Soulympics” and “Orc,” but that’s still a galaxy away from the Diana Krall LPs I reviewed last week.

Zu is a heady, heavy, ruthless listen. I bet it would sound great on a pair of Druids, too!

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