It’s been five years since Zu released the mind-boggling, genre spanning, freak-out album Carboniferous. Although there’s been an EP and a collaboration with Oxbow’s Eugene Robinson since then, Cortar Todo represents the band’s first real statement of intent for quite some time.
Clearly things have changed for the band. There’s been a slight line-up change with new drummer, Gabe Serbian (of The Locust) lining up alongside Massimo Pupillo (bass) and Luca Mai (baritone saxophone), but there has also been a fundamental shift in the band’s dynamics. Cortar Todo is a focused, sharper album, where its predecessor was a math-core, spiralling free-jazz work out, that appeared to be plucked from the ether in an improvisational frenzy. It was an album that called to mind the skronking sax of John Zorn and that threw a seemingly endless amount influences into the mix. Part of its appeal was the sheer versatility and range of styles covered in such a short space of time.
Cortar Todo is cut from a different cloth altogether. It almost had to be; whatever followed Carboniferous was bound to suffer from comparisons, but rather than attempt to recreate their lightning in a bottle moment, Zu has opted for something new. Luca Mai’s sax is not as prominent this time around; instead the main driving force for the album comes from a seriously heavy guitar onslaught. This is an album that appears to have its roots in death metal; perhaps the title of their Eugene Robinson collaboration The Left Hand Path was a hint.
The album opens with The Unseen War, a song that positively grinds with menace and dark intent. Rudra Dances Over Burning Rome ups the pace but retains the metal edge. There’s a little more of the freewheeling sax outbursts thrown in, but essentially it relies on repetitive sledge-hammer riffs to make its mark. The same is true of the abrasive guitar of the title track, which sounds like someone scratching an itch with a cheese grater. It’s not until the mid-point that everything melts down into a strange brew of electronics and sax. Orbital Equilibriac contains a little pop sensibility, but still manages to sound a little like Morphine playing Sepultura songs. In fact, the influence of the Brazilian metal behemoths can be felt numerous times in these songs, most notably, No Pasa Nada, which rumbles with the same tribal intensity that could be found on the likes of Roots or Chaos AD.
This being Zu, just relying on death and thrash metal for inspiration alone would never be enough, thankfully Sky Burial channels the slow, droning ambience of Sunn O))) or Earth just to switch gears a little. It’s here that things loosen up a little. Less confined by the rigidity of the riffs, Mai really lets his saxophone off the leash at the song’s tumultuous closing moments.
Brief respite is provided by the ambient soundscape of Serpens Cauda, a song that sounds positively cosmic and elegant in the presence of such barbed and ferocious riffing. It’s a moment only matched by the closing moments of the final track Pantokrator, a song that features unsettling electronics, droning guitar parts, and the chanting of a Shipibo medicine man, recorded by Pupillo during his trip to the Amazon.
There’s no doubting that these songs are more controlled and deliberate than the band’s previous work. Those expecting freedom and discordance may come away disappointed, but this is, none the less, a driven and impressive album from a band in fine, but different, form.