REVIEW: ZEALOTRY – “The Last Witness”
Zealotry is a Death Metal band from Boston, Massachusetts. I first caught wind of the band in 2013 with their excellent debut album, The Charnel Expanse. The album was dark, beckoning, and above all well sculpted. Resultantly, the album became one of my favorites of that year. With the announcement of a new album for last year, I was terribly excited as I waited for this album’s release. With its release date pushed back to April of 2016, ‘The Last Witness’ quickly became one of my most anticipated releases of this year. Now that the album is finally released, Zealotry has exceeded all my expectations and delivered a phenomenal album that will remain as one of the best metal has to offer this year. Oddly enough, the new album is released on Lavadome Productions, the label which released my favorite metal album of 2015.
Zealotry consists of its main man Roman Temin on guitar and vocals, Philippe Tougas (Chthe’ilist, First Fragment, Sercos) on guitar, and the newcomer Alex Zalatan on drums. The spectacular trio is joined by the session bassist (and cellist) Aodán Collins with two guest musicians Tommy Purnill (Avalon Steel) and Xavier Berthiaume (Gevurah) providing additional vocals. Unlike their first album, ‘The Last Witness’ takes a similar but different approach to Death Metal. The new album bolsters a well-crafted sound that is equally technical, aggressive, and experimental. The best way to describe the style on the new album is Progressive/Technical Death Metal that takes cues from bands like Gorguts, Immolation, Ulcerate, and Chthe’illist among other influences. The level of exploration in songwriting and abstract musical ideas is very well fleshed out and forces the listener to go beyond the generic tropes of Death Metal and easy listening, in favor of a more thought provoking album that demands multiple listens for an appreciative understanding. This album is a sci-fi monolith, based on the works by renowned British writer Arthur C. Clarke, that is not afraid to explore more complex musical ideologies in Death Metal and does it strikingly well.
The album starts off with the track “Arc of Eradication”, a hefty track that immediately establishes the overall tone and atmosphere of this album. The band here does not mess around with their music. With the strong-winded compacted chords and the thick guitar tone, this track hits the listener hard. The core of the band’s music is immediately established, the relationship between the guitars and bass. This track and the following track “Heralding the Black Apostle” showcases some of the best compositional skills the band has. The varied riffing, disjointed melodies, and condensed atmosphere brings out the best of the dual guitars. Temin and Tougas bounce off each other in almost a dance like fashion as their parts interchange and roar during their solos. The bass adds a warmed color to the the texture as the bass gets woven into the music providing valuable harmonic detail and sometimes counterpoint to the dichotomy of the guitarists. The music stays fresh with the various nuances the band adds and takes away as the album plays itself out.
“Progeny Omega” is the centerpiece of this album as well as being the longest track off the record. The track first starts off with a calm intro that reels the listener into a lengthy Death Metal epic filled with contorted riffs, excellent use of synths, and choral vocals provided by Purnill. Each of the individual instruments come together nicely on this track, almost in a cascade like pattern, that almost seems out of place but oddly fits within the context of the album. Similarities can be drawn on this track to the new Chthe’ilist album Le Dernier Crépuscule as the band transitions its focus into more of a melodic and atmospheric approach that adds a different face or side to the music. Though it’s long and not as vigorous as the tracks before it, this track demonstrates the band’s ability to shift gears into something that’s more long run minded and reserved as a stylistic necessity. The guitars have more phrasing in mind while the Zalatan’s drumming fills the space beneath the musical progression. The synths and choral voice adds a nice touch to liven up the sound more which works very well with what the track is going for.
The next two tracks “Yliaster” and “The Last Witness” demonstrate another side of the band. On these two tracks, Zealotry is not afraid to tone things down and slow down. These tracks feature the doomiest sections of the album, especially on “The Last Witness”. Even when the band slows itself down, the intensity still remains and the atmosphere of the music does not suffer from it. I would say these two tracks are the “darkest” sounding off the album and resembles the tonalities of The Charnel Expanse the most. Though the guitar work may not match the same ferocity presented in the first three tracks of the album, the band is still able to provide just enough vigor to balance and fuse with lusher sides of the music.
The final track “Silence” is my personal favorite of the album. The track starts off with an intense acoustic guitar intro played by Tougas that I would say is one of the best acoustic intros in any metal album. You can hear the strings vibrate, the pressure placed on the strings while they are picked, and the twine-like twists of the sound, yet the intro is equally melodic and oddly relaxing. When the band kicks in while the acoustic guitar sings out its final cadence chords (around the 1:03 mark) is my favorite moment of the album. The band hits you with just the right amount of intensity that it does not overwhelm you but fill you with an emotive outcry. The rest of the track, similar to to “Progeny Omega” showcases the more melodic and long run minded vision as the synths return accompanied by Collins’ cello playing, the bells, and Berthiaume’s additional vocals. Temin’s vocals shine on this track, not for it’s intensity or deep sound, but for it’s contribution to the overall sound of the track. With the mid-tempo guitars floating over the bass and drums (along with the bells and synths) creating a misty soundscape, the quieter and rounder vocals are complimented as they work together to form the mellower feel of this track. The track ends as the band fades out into the the lone acoustic guitar to close off the album.
The pacing on this album is quite good as the band naturally plays around with the musical ideas, balance, and tempo. However, I would have liked to see more usage of the cello, synths, and acoustic guitar (the outro of “Silence” could have been longer and more impactful). A little stronger bass presence which would help highlight the counterpoint Collins provides, and a slightly more spaced out organization that morphs between melody (a little more melody would help bring more character and individual flavor), dissonant intensity, and the lush atmosphere. ‘The Last Witness’ showcases exactly why Zealotry made waves in the underground Death Metal community back in 2013. With their new album the band has taken steps forward in various directions to create an album that is built on similar principles but was not afraid to push itself to new heights. As a result the album became a huge success as the band has outdone themselves compositionally, stylistically, and dynamically to create an unique abstract album that joins the ranks of the Avant-Garde Black and Death Metal crowd of the recent years. Hat’s off to you Roman, Phill, and Alex. With that being said, this is an album that thrives on patience and reflection. Take that for what you will. Prokofiev anyone?
Zealotry returns with an outstanding sophomore album that openly embraces experimentation and uses it to their advantage to create a monstrous album of high level craftsmanship and mastery in composition, sound, and atmospheric energy. With this album, Zealotry has no doubt solidified its place as one of the most exciting modern Death Metal bands of this time and serves as a powerhouse that would help drive the creative forefront of modern Death Metal. Keep watch, there will be many great things to come from this band.