Updated: Feb 2
There’s something at the heart of this work that’s difficult to describe. It’s almost like it shouldn’t be described. Something spiritual that gives it an edge over the typical, heavy-metal influenced noise rock that this so easily could have become. Womb, the final part in a trilogy of EP’s by Berlin-based experimental group ZEUG, is certainly an experience. Right from the get-go, we’re thrust into a world of heavy syncopated drumming and long-held drones, tempered only by varying levels of distortion. It’s darkness that this album thrives in, with electric guitar feedback obviously designed to mimic screams and drill-like drones that feel like tinnitus developing in the ear. And yet, despite all this harsh activity, it never loses itself completely.
The music here is more cold and calculating than your typical gothic and metal-inspired music. Based on minimalist textures and development through repetition, it lacks the driving guitar solos and explosiveness of metal. There’s little showmanship here. It’s almost like joining a cult. All musical angles look towards this one big all-encompassing block of sound that consumes all. No single part outdoes another. The ensemble just keeps driving on with the same steady, sure-handed intensity from beginning to end, each 20-30 minute piece basically one long crescendo.
There’s something ancient about the elements of spirituality laced throughout the tracks. Svet thrives on its chanting Mongolian throat singing, with panning disembodied vocals providing a ghostly refrain. The continual wash and then lull of sound repeats over and over again like some ritual. Any changes in the rhythm or instrumentation are gradual and hardly noticeable, always becoming absorbed within the mass of sound they feed.
There’s an overarching simplicity to all of it, but the magnitude to which it’s executed can’t help but be admired. It’s easy to feel sorry for the performers, stuck repeating over and over again these ideas, waiting for a climax that never seems to come. At times it can feel a fault, but how else could they create such mesmerising and hypnotic textures except through this persistence? It’s almost as if they believe in their own cult too much, but it’s hard to look pure faith in the heart and not respect something.
The last track, HazeOver, almost implies that it was just a show all along. The vocal performance gets hammed up to eleven as the spoken-word delivery becomes increasingly manic and desperate, screaming about obsession, delirium and greed, among other gothic favourites. It’s clearly a performance, almost too villain-esque in the snarled delivery and pantomime-like overtures. But it doesn’t matter. Even this performance can’t escape that all-encompassing texture, just a mass of sound swallowing everything in its midst. The voice is left as a series of far-off shouts that can’t do anything except dissolve into nothing, leaving us with only one more climax before the end.
In some ways it’s a shame they end it like this. At first, it appears each track has its own central idea. The first is primal and guttural in its eventual crescendo. The second is more reserved and spiritual, or at least superstitious, with the chants and focus on the wash-lull structure. The third’s dramatic performance feels like it could become a sort of sequel to The Doors’ The End. It gets increasingly incoherent as we’re left with the vocals playing around with meaningless syllables. But the fact it still ends with another crescendo feels a bit redundant after the first track. Just a shame they didn’t keep the drama instead of sidling it away as if it were merely a brief detour.
This is a brilliantly executed work. At times the music feels ancient and wrapped in mystique through the utter dedication to bleak atmospherics. The hypnotic soundscapes do well to use their grand repetitious structures to keep the storm at bay for just a little bit longer. The ambition behind all of this is astonishing and you can’t deny the determination of the musicians for one second. For anyone who likes a bit of experimental music, or music that gets right to the heart through simple means, this is for you.