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At the time of the release of their second full length, 'Surface To Air', prog rock/synth duo Zombi embarked on a US tour with the hugely successful progessive metal band Isis, and their influence on Zombi shows, right down to the sleeve art. The front cover of 'Surface To Air' shows an aerial photograph of a mysterious blue landscape, and the inner sleeve contains similar pictures of vast cloud formations and river networks in a variety of garish greens and oranges, giving them a somewhat alien quality. The cover is strikingly similar to the cover of Isis' 2004 album 'Panopticon', which also features a deep blue-coloured aerial shot taken from a similar altitude. There are musical similarities between the two albums too, however these are much more subtle.
Though very different-sounding (Isis are essentially sludge metal with progressive leanings), both albums strive to create an elevated, "floaty" feeling, using sustained waves of sound and contemplative prog-rock style drums to create wide-open, lofty soundscapes. This is evident in the title to Zombi's new album, which evokes images of a deadly virus spreading across the Earth's atmosphere, or perhaps a group of lone airborne survivors surveying a barren landscape for signs of life. In my review of Zombi's previous album I made mention of the opening helicopter scenes from 80s zombie film "Dawn Of The Dead" and the presence of this scene in my mind is even more prevalent whenever I listen to 'Surface To Air'.
The elements that made the previous album 'Cosmos' so enjoyable are all still here- the funky basslines, brooding, portentous-sounding synth pulses and pensive, searching keys- though here they are carried along by more organic sounding drums, which take a more prominent role in the album than they did on 'Cosmos'. The album has less of the creeping, John Carpenter-esque menace than its predecessor, and though it does still retain a certain eerie feel at its heart, the overall sensation is one of detachment and distance, as if looking down upon a panorama drifting along beneath. Whilst generally speaking a very laid back album, it does incorporate some more dynamic and forceful elements as well, such as the thudding keys on the track 'Surface To Air' and the urgent, pulsating synths of "Digitalis" that provide the backbone of the song. These aspects are mixed in with more relaxed bass rhythms, including a decidedly Faith-No-More-esque bassline during opener "Challenger Deep".
The album takes a more sinister turn on closer 'Night Rhythms': a sprawling 18-and-a-half minute track of throbbing sound and dramatic, tribal drums which are reminiscent of US progressive sludge masters Neurosis. The track incorporates ominous, suspenseful keys and synthesized chanting alongside a low, twangy bassline and keyboard rhythms that slowly mutate into what sounds like thudding helicopter blades, recalling Dawn of the Dead once more. The song presses on, growing in urgency, dampening then growing again before levelling out at a sustained and lofty plateu before plunging into a rapid descent. Its a euphoric and powerful track that brings to mind changes in elevation and atmospheric conditions as it progresses, providing an excellent closer to the album.
'Surface to Air' is a stunning piece of synth/prog, which anyone with an interest in progressive rock/metal or electronic music in general would do well to check out.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
4 Surface To Air
5 Night Rhythms