The term ‘Carboniferous’ is defined as such: the period of geological time, 360 to 290 million years ago, during which true reptiles first appeared and vast swamps created coal forming sediments. Alternatively, it can mean: containing coal or carbon. With an album title such as this, I expected Zu’s fourteenth album to be a lumbering dinosaur of laborious riffs and over-analysed ideas that I was never going to get into.
Then again, just like judging a book by its cover, it was wrong of me to judge ‘Carboniferous’ by its title alone. Opener ‘Ostia’ has a violent groove to it that completely stunned me into submission, and its alarming sense of humour made any notions of tedium disappear entirely from my mind. And it’s followed up with the unpronounceable ‘Chthonian’, whose deep fuzzy rumble (provided by guest performer King Buzzo of the equally fuzzy The Melvins) is perfectly punctuated with distressing shrieks of a guitar in the throes of pleasure. The tumultuous percussion drives the song to a tribal conclusion – the music of the Elephant Graveyard if Disney marketed the Lion King to adults.
‘Carbon’ is a musical tribute to the black stuff – a wholly solid, compressed sound which is packed with years of evolution. It stops and starts, as layer upon layer of guitars, bass, electronics and drums build to create one dense deposit over your ears. ‘Beata Viscera’ on the other hand parties along with a dynamic drum beat and saxophone wahs (that reminded me of the scene in that classic film The Mask; you know, the one where Stanley Ipkiss throws an extremely hot Cameron Diaz all over the dancefloor) and it rolls perfectly into the stop start introduction of ‘Erinys’, before all manner of chaos kicks off as bass, sax and drums fall all over each other to be the centre of attention.
The band are no strangers to collaborations, having joined forces with the likes of Dälek, Damo Suzuki, Joe Lally (Fugazi) and Steve MacKay of Stooges fame to name but a few. It’s no surprise then that label master Mike Patton makes his presence known on a couple of tracks here, to rather negative extent. Whilst his talent of being able to make any noise ever sound fairly awesome, it’s a tactic that doesn’t really sit well within the rest of the the album’s dark groove. ‘Soulympics’ sounds far too much like a Mr Bungle offshoot with its eerie vocal strains (but the Meshuggah-esque bass riff just about saves it), and ‘Orc’ brings together the ambient birdsong of ‘Frances The Mute’, the barking of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dogs’ and Patton doing his best didgeridoo impression. Yeah, we get it – it’s creepy, it’s weird, it’s ‘out there’ – but it’s also boring.
Sure, this is a pretty dark album, and certainly not for the faint of heart. But ‘Carboniferous’ succeeds where it is most accessible – the dirty grooves that could be an offshoot from the Kyuss school of learning, the impeccable drumming that pins every one of those riffs to the wall and the interesting sounds of a tortured saxophone that adds just a little bit more spice to the mix. The only thing that really lets it down is Patton’s contribution, but I figure that guy is just like Marmite. You either love it or hate it, and anyone who does love it must have a screw loose somewhere…
Originally published at Sonic Dice.