Album Review: ZEVIOUS Lowlands
Over the past decade, NYC’s Zevious have built a strong reputation for crafting instrumental roads that “blur the lines between prog, jazz, and metal.” Cite influences as widely ranged as Magma, Vijay Iyer, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Ben Monder, and Mahavishnu Orchestra, their prior three LPs certainly showcased a commendable fusion of styles. Luckily, their latest outing (and first for Nefarious Industries), Lowlands, is, for the most part, another sufficiently inventive and rewardingly nuanced collection. While its compositions can wear thin after a while, each contains enough fetching imagination and skill to be worthwhile for at least the majority of its duration.
According to the band, Lowlands “offers a subtle change in direction” from predecessors After the Air Raid (2009) and Passing Through the Wall (2013). Particularly, the aimed to investigate “a hypnotic and more streamlined rhythmic approach while maintaining their abrasive edge, with influences ranging from new-wave and 20th-century composition to doom and black metal.” Indeed, Zevious replace a bit of their brighter and flashier freeform intricacy for an overall more menacing and simple sequence of brooding dirges. As a result, the LP should please many prior fans while also tempting listeners who typically veer towards murkier excursions.
There are certainly moments on the full-length that feel notably aligned with the band’s previous output (especially during the second half). Specifically, “Ritual Based Symmetries” is a tight array of proggy oscillations in which bassist Johnny DeBlase’s grooves add grungy accentuations to guitarist Mike Eber’s shifting sonic sculptures. Of course, drummer Jeff Eber keeps them in line with a multitude of ceaselessly creative syncopation. Likewise, “Null Island” is a downright futuristic slice of echoed dissonance that still presents adequate melodic urgency, whereas “Sensor Recall” demonstrates some truly dizzying percussion in the midst of developing several chaotic motifs. In a way, these parts come across like a post-metal take on The Mars Volta and truly reveal how well Zevious unites complex universes.
Those passages also provide some much-needed deviations from the less sophisticated, intense, and engaging—though still temporarily pleasing—arrangements that make up most of Lowlands. Sure, opener “Tube Lord” is a fine compromise of multifaceted entwinements on top of sludgy foundations, but its few hooks are run into the ground long before the track ends (so its duration isn’t justified). Elsewhere, “Smear Campaign” and closer “Slow Reach” never really offer anything that sticks (although their bonded musicianship is still laudable from a purely technical standpoint). As for “Slaves of Rotor,” its leisurely bareness does create a sense of apocalyptic bleakness—so it has tangible character—but it doesn’t really go anywhere once it establishes that environment.
Lowlands is a mostly enjoyable instrumental venture that consistently skates the line between spirited and gloomy ruin. Zevious deserves applause for their playing alone, as well as their ability to refine/change their sound in significant ways while also maintaining aspects of what made their prior releases stand out. That said¸ it does become repetitious and boring at times, and devotees who adore the trio’s more flamboyant, playful, and jazzy side may find too little to latch onto here.