Zu - Carboniferous (GOLD) (LP)
Catalog number: SSR047
Catching the attention of Ex-Faith No More honcho Mike Patton and being picked to join the ranks of his highly regarded Ipecac label in company with artists such as Melvins, Hella, and the Locust, would be one hell of a high point for the majority of heavy, avant-rock bands currently making music. Zu, one of the most progressive no-wave metal bands ever to come out of Italy, were recruited by Patton for the release of their 14th album, Carboniferous , and one cannot conceive a more fitting home for the trio.
Drummer Jacopo Battaglia, saxophonist Luca T. Mai, and bass player Massimo Pupillo, formed Zu in Rome 10 years ago. Since then, aside from releasing records at the rate of more than one per year, the band have toured the world relentlessly (their self-described Black Flag-esque work ethic has motivated them to play over 1,000 live shows), and collaborated with an impressive range of sterling artists such as Hamid Drake, the Ex, Han Bennink, Damo Suzuki, Alvin Curran, and the Stooges' saxophonist Steve MacKay. Given their predilection for ingenious improvisation, combined with the ability to absorb and incorporate an exhilarating variety of musical styles into their material, it is not surprising that Zu often sounds like a hundred bands in one, although the way they piece together their wild sonic jigsaw is unique to them alone.
Entirely instrumental except for Patton's guest vocals on "Soulympics", Carboniferous veers alternately from free jazz and punk, to sheer metal, math, and hair-raising noise. By the time the album reaches the finish line, there aren't many stones left unturned. It sounds as though Zu have wrung out every last drop from their musical cloth, yet one doubts whether their imagination can possibly run dry. Arguably the most aggressive album the band has ever recorded, Carboniferous is relentless in its volatile ferocity. Any brief moment of calm is torn from limb to limb by a monstrous tide of free jazz or Behemoth-style mania. On a song such as "Carbon", Mai's saxophone, the perfect melodic replacement for Zu's lack of vocals, sounds like it is fighting a battle as it screams and struggles against the rhythm section in an effort to set itself free. Other tracks take the listener inside the workings of an industrial factory. "Chthonian" and "Axion" are so forcefully precise and metallic sounding that it feels as though you are trapped in a steel foundry, narrowly escaping darts of sparks and rivers of molten metal.
At times the songs can sound cold, as though they want to keep their distance, refusing to shed any armor. Although this could be a handicap on other albums, it only serves to makes Carboniferous more intriguing. Not exactly an easy ride, it will undoubtedly be too dense, tough, and quite frankly deranged for some listeners to take in. For others, particularly fans of fellow Mediterranean math rockers Uzeda, John Zorn's Cobra improvisations, and all Patton-affiliated projects such as Fantômas and Mr. Bungle, Zu's massive accomplishment will be nothing short of breathtaking.