When I was a kid, I was terrified of the concept of alien abduction, and to make matters worse, I’d purposely watch anything I could find on TV about aliens (which at the time wasn’t much) to the point where I’d have nightmares about encounters. Nights when I was tasked with taking out the trash, I’d walk the cans down our long driveway and run breathlessly through our woods-bordering yard fearing something was behind me and closing in. Something about the terror was exhilarating.
The first time I ever heard Pittsburgh’s Zombi many years ago and their cinematic space rock, it immediately made me think back to those days. There was something about how the synth struck me, the weirdness enveloped in their songs, and the feeling of something from another world permeating my senses that gave me that feeling again. It was terror combined with excitement, and with each subsequent release, I get another chance to relive those moments, nightmare-inducing as they were. On the band’s sixth record “Shape Shift,” there’s more of that eerie, murky stuff to make the blood go cold again. The other thing Zombi always made me think about were old 1980s B sci-fi and horror movies with their strange keyboard-laden soundtracks that made you feel like you were watching something made by people not of this planet. People who originated in a dream. That’s one of the reasons Zombi so often is compared to John Carpenter’s work. It feels like they operate in the same headspace.
One thing that does stand out as being a little different on “Shape Shift” as compared to their other work is it feels more live and spontaneous. The bio notes that accompany the record do point out that Steve Moore (synth, bass) and A.E. Paterra (drums) operated more in the vein of playing like a live band, having come off a successful run playing as support for Goblin and as a headline act at Roadburn. Listening to these nine songs play out, it feels like both guys are in the room playing off of one another, and making their strange music even more cohesive and vibrant.
“Pillars of Dawn” begins the record in a synth haze, with the melodies roaring, feeling like we’re kicking off the opening scene of an alien mission as we’re getting a fleet of ships prepared to go out into the unknown. Sounds pulsate, the keys bubble up, and the noise bleeds out and into “Total Breakthrough.” Here, the band comes off in a similar vein as early 1980s Rush (fun fact: I am listening to the new vinyl repress of “Signals” as I write this), with the bass plodding in, the drums keeping things steady, and mist rising. The intensity continues to build, with the synth lurking and a spirit of the song sweeping you away. “Mission Creep” has keys spiraling in, a thick melody being pushed by the bass, and a snakey rhythm that works its way around the track. “Interstellar Package” is one of the longer songs on here, at 8:34, and it feels like cosmic doom is pouring down on you. Strange spirits appear in the song, as it sets up its haunting mission. In fact, it makes it seem like a UFO is hovering overhead, disorienting and collecting information, before it sends a beam down and captures you. Struggling is useless, so you might as well just cooperate. “Diffraction Zone” has keys jutting to the surface, with the drums keeping us on pace and chilling synth seeming like a cold wind freezing your cells. The bass plods, the keys stay odd, and the whole thing comes to an abrupt end.
“Toroidal Vortices” is built on blipping keys and a melody that’s damn near danceable, if you’re inclined to that kind of thing. The track drives ahead nicely, again reminding of Rush, and as all the elements build to a high, they’re allowed to fade away. “Shadow Hand” gets going with churning bass work, smeared keyboards, and the drums thrashing away. The melodies all seem headed in one direction, but just as you get comfortable, the pace halts and takes a curve, with the keys penetrating and the rest of the song twisting your arms. “Metaverse” begins with keys raining down, a thick fog settling in, and the sensation that you’re traveling through the clouds, trying to find your way through the void. Each element boils, giving off steam, and then eventually fades away. Closer “Siberia II” (the first installment appeared on their 2007 “Digitalis” EP) is the longest cut at 14:40, and it’s in no real hurry to get from point A to point B. Winds pick up and blow through, while the track slowly unfurls and a wooshing, hypnotic display hits the ground. There is a psychedelic sheen to some of this cut, with the pace entering into a repetition designed to stymy. Sounds and layers keep folding on top of each other, as the band achieves a state of total hypnosis they spent nearly 15 minutes building. Just as you’re at your utmost state of mental submission, the sounds blast off into space, you’re deposited on the dewy ground, and you’re left to wonder what exactly happened to your body.
Zombi’s music isn’t exactly metal, but certainly their reach has spilled over in that territory during their time together. “Shape Shift” is another solid dose of cosmic glory, a record that gets better and spookier the closer you listen to sundown. Once the moon is in the sky, all bets are off. You might find me running down the street wailing, worrying I’m being taken away to a new world. Seriously, if you ever see me doing that, call someone. It might really be happening, and I could use your help.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/ZombiBand
To buy the album, go here: http://www.relapse.com/store.html
For more on the label, go here: http://www.relapse.com