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Zaum - Divination

by Sean McGuirk at 28 May 2019, 7:44 AM

Canada’s ZAUM play something they call “Middle Eastern Mantra Doom,” which sounds exactly like you might think it does: long passages of droning Stoner Doom, mixed in with all sorts of ancient instruments like sitars, digeridoos and finger cymbals. There is an earnest didactic quality to it that draws you in and sits you down, as if urging you to drop your bean and take the journey with them. Put this one on and chill, man.

There are three tracks to “Divination,” the duo’s fourth full-length: one sidelong track in “Relic,” coming in at 19 minutes, and two more on side B, “Pantheon” and “Procession,” at nine and 14 minutes long respectively. I say sides, because this is an album that seems to be tailor-made for the vinyl format, like so many great musical odysseys of the past. Experimental artists out of the 1960’s and 1970’s Krautrock scene come to mind, artists like AGITATION FREEPOPOL VUH or ASH RA TEMPEL, who dabbled in the, then novel, trend of ancient Middle Eastern and Buddhist philosophy, art and culture. ZAUM may have taken inspiration from those bands, just as much as genre mates like OM, BONG and CATHEDRAL.

“Relic” transports you instantly with some ancient atmospherics, like the precursor to an interdimensional ayahuasca trip. There are jungle effects, woodwinds, female vocalizations, charm bracelet shaking, all setting the scene perfectly. At 4:30 we get our first hint of a guitar, and when it comes in full, it’s gloriously fuzzed to the point of clipping. A distant clean guitar chimes in the right channel as we get a full head of sound. Kyle McDonald’s vocals have a few characters but mostly stays in a kind of drone or drunken rasp throughout. The song feels like a swaying boat, as the racket gives way and all you hear is the backbone of Christopher Lewis’ drumbeat with some odd bullfrog noises. It’s too late to turn around now. Things speed up as the track escapes down a rabbit hole to its dizzying end.

There are very few, if any, strictly synthy moments to the record, with everything sounding like it comes from a natural, albeit amplified, instrument, perhaps an object of focus on this album. We enter the great hall in “Pantheon” to the sound of a marching beat and what feels like a narration or a warning over top. The chiming harmonics of a funky blues style riff echoes over a layer of distorted buzzing in the background. While the first side was a meditation, side two brings back the ego and exposition. The musical thread in “Pantheon” reappears in “Procession,” which goes back and forth between a tinnitus-laden silence and full-on fuzzed out doom, before ending in a perfect groove where the vocals and the din finally lift each other up rather than work against each other.

The first side here feels like the revelation, as it is less put-on, and more meditative than the second side, which is more concerned with creating a story and the requisite “meat” of the album. Still, the atmospherics and the production overall are on point throughout, making this a fine piece of psychedelia from a band that sets themselves apart from their Stoner neighbors by leaning more on artistry and purpose rather than camp.

Songwriting: 8
Originality: 8
Memorability: 8
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

1. Relic
2. Pantheon
3. Procession
Christopher Lewis – Drums, Percussion
Kyle Alexander McDonald – Vocals, Bass
Record Label: Listenable Records


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