I Hate Records (13 June 2014)
Zaum create a unique, otherworldy sound that takes us on a journey through time to the blood-soaked sands of an ancient Middle East. The land in which we arrive is a far cry from the modern, gleaming towers of today’s Dubai or Abu Dhabi – this is a grim and dusty place where death shadows every footstep.
Reminiscent of Om or Queen Elephantine, ‘Oracles’ forms a swirling, clanking mantra, a Canadian interpretation of Middle Eastern music that manages to steer clear of cliché. This duo from New Brunswick have enough experience to avoid that particular pitfall – drummer Christopher Lewis has fronted Iron Giant, while vocalist/guitarist/synthesizerist Kyle Alexander McDonald is also the frontman with Shevil.
Throughout the album, relentless sitar textures tie the tracks together and add to the sense of exploration, sending your mind to a distant, long-dead world. Not for Zaum the bombastic posturing of Orphaned Land – this is slow, contemplative and spiritual. The songs undulate, moving as imperceptibly as the sands of a desert and this constant movement is vital, maintaining a sense of impetus behind the mantra.
From the opening track, McDonald launches into some exciting vocal melodies that help to lift the songs from droning misery. And whenever the songs threaten to drag, the band’s creativity interjects just in time. The third song, for example, offers a change of perspective, centering on sinister synths in place of the shuddering guitars. That said, the song can feel less organic than some of the others, the focal riff and overall arrangement a little too awkward to flow naturally.
The fourth and final song, ‘Omen’, features a slightly obvious and drawn-out opening passage, but then continues with experimental ambience as Zaum seek out “a deeper state of thought”. With its unexpected vocal treatments, this track is often ugly/beautiful and spectacular, although not quite the special ending that we might have hoped for on this adventure into antiquity.
Zaum’s ‘Oracles’ is an ambitious and sometimes exhilarating journey of contemplation, mysticism and slow, sludgy, droning metal. It takes you to the Middle East and dumps you in the middle of a desert wearing only your underpants and clutching your copy of Om’s ‘Live At Jerusalem’.