Album Review: ZAIUS Of Adoration
I will begin this review in a similar fashion to how I've approached most of all my previous instrumental reviews. With the majority of bands across all genres having a vocalist as the main instrument compelling the melody and lyrical theme of a piece, instrumental acts have to work extra hard to compensate for their lack of a singer. When listening to an instrumental composition, if you find yourself wishing for a vocal lead added to the mix, the musician has failed, in my opinion, as their instrumental abilities did not overcome the involuntary desire for vocals. As I delve into this record, my ultimate goal is to determine if the songs provided were strong enough vocal-less.
Zaius is a Chicago-based quartet that formed in 2010. After a couple EPs, guitarists Dann Dolce and Ian McConnell, bassist Jeremy Bellen, and drummer Mike Imbordino signed to Prosthetic Records for their debut LP, Of Adoration. The album was also mixed and mastered by Chris Common, known for his work with other post-rock-esque heavy groups such as Pelican or Mouth of the Architect.
Opening piece, "Phaneron," presents an atmosphere sprinkled with playful guitar licks. During the five minutes of the piece, there are subtle rhythm and melodic changes, but not a large dynamic range until the last minute where the group slows their pace to a speed that is more digestible. While I didn't find much outstanding moments in the previous track, "Echelon" reveals more layers and confidence as each musician finds their own personal stride. There are some tasty riffs and grooves, which overall leads me confused as to why this did not serve as the grand opener. The notion of guitar layering continues onto "Reformer," where the band continues to develop a better bond, playing off each other in a natural evolution. There is also a lead guitar part that comes in at the three minute mark which very much so resembles an epic vocal chorus that you'd hear from Periphery or Erra.
While remaining mostly heavy, "Sheepdog" envokes the calming folksy post-rock of Alcest or Mogwai through clean, ambient moments. "Magnolia" and "Seirenes" extend this balance between post-rock and post-metal quite successfully. At times, there is a Russian Circles vibe, which will then transition to a more visceral Isis-like realm. As "Annica" and "Colin" finish off the record, the band confirmed that they were able to evoke emotions through their moody tones and sometimes tense phrasing.
As stated in the intro, my personal belief is that if you're an instrumental act, you have to work twice as hard to develop a personal identity within your songwriting where vocals and lyrics aren't available to aid. When applying this philosophy to Zaius, I believe there were many moments where the lead guitar took on the position as the vocalist, crooning and screaming over the rhythm section. So yes, for the most part, I think Zaius passed the test. However, this isn't the only obstacle to greatness when being an musical act of this style. The music shown here is full of energy and creativity, but I'm not certain on how it completely differs from other groups within the subgenre. Their ability to take a middle ground between the beauty of post-rock and the aggressive atmospheres of post-metal is an undeniably unique attribute, which I hope the group pushes to an even further extreme to solidify their originality above others.