Have you ever listened to an album and had a hard time deciding if it’s brilliant or just downright absurd? This is how I usually feel about Zebulon Pike. Formed in 2002, the band’s previous releases – such as And Blood Was Passion (2004) and The Deafening Twilight (2006) – fluctuate between moments of brilliance and long passages of “let’s get to the point, guys”. But with their latest release, 2012s Space is the Corpse of Time, I feel they’ve finally tipped the scale in favour of absolutely bloody awesome.
Hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Zebulon Pike play a blend of instrumental prog-doom that the term “unique” can definitely be applied to. I don’t know how this band remain unsigned, since this album proves, far and away, that they’re pushing the boundaries of music to the very edge, and the only thing that’s keeping them from falling into the abyss is the fact that they’re very, very good. Nothing on this album happens by chance – every riff, every spectral note comes together to create this seething mass of eerie atmosphere that is utterly intoxicating. You can hear a combination of influences – classic metal in a Judas Priest inspired riff, progressive rock in a Rush-style composition, 20th century classical music in the layers of melody, the relentless energy of Mike Patton, and a hefty dose of drone, avant-garde and jazz thrown into the mix, but nothing is derivative – Zebulon Pike are a sound unto their own.
Space is the Corpse of TIme is a soundtrack for the end of the world, a soundscape of expanding space, a concoction of mad musical science. From the opening track, “Spectrum Threshold”, Zebulon Pike hold your attention – the initial charge of the guitar giving way to a drum solo that’s part freeform jazz, part ritual invocation. The title track sounds like the musical equivalent of Mike Patton marrying every member of Opeth in ceremony fifty kilometers under the earth’s crust, performed by King Crimson. Other tracks, “Trigon in Force”, and the asoundingly beautiful (and perhaps slightly too long) “Powers of the Living – Manifestations of the Dead”, invoke the fuzzed out malaise of drone legends Sun O))). Overall, the album functions as a series of juxtapositions – musical elements fading in and out, placed on top of each other to wind the listener through a series of emotions.
The biggest criticism thrown by reviewers at Zebulon Pike is that they play music for metal nerds, but which I would proudly push my glasses further up my nose and say “who the fuck cares?” Nerd it up a notch, if art-metal can sound this good.