Surface to Air / Digitalis
2006 / 2006
B- / B
That’s the word that I don’t want to use, and, judging by their overly defensive website, the word that Zombi dreads as well. Almost every review of the band drops the ‘G’ word for a good reason, though: Zombi sound exactly like the 70s-to-early 80s Italian prog-to-disco giallo soundtrack kings. In fact, as they whittle down Goblin’s sound to its core components they often sound more like Goblin than Goblin do themselves—the Platonic ideal of Goblin: ominous analogue synth groans, lumbering hardware sequencer arpeggiations, proto-disco drums with sweatband roto-tom fills, and funk basslines slowed to a coma patient’s heartbeat, revealing previously hidden anomie and dread. It’s fitting that they come from Pittsburgh, taking their name from the European title of local director George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, the soundtrack to which was provided by… well, you guessed it.
Zombi really do invite it—the only way anyone could listen to the airy monophonic melody of “Legacy” from their new album, Surface to Air, and not think of Italian horror flicks is if they had never seen one (I do realize this describes a large section of the population.) “Digitalis” stacks cube shaped breezeblocks of bass on top of evenly spaced steel girder drums. “Surface to Air” single-mindedly riffs out the opening seconds of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” to over seven-and-a-half minutes. The album sounds like it’s designed to be heard live at Pompeii. Despite Surface to Air’s release on a metal label, Zombi share a common ground with the Tangerine Dream (uncool period) redux of Delia & Gavin and the kraut-disco of The Emperor Machine. Like both of those bands, the music is overly mimetic—too in thrall to a tiny part of the past, whilst still retaining a powerful effect. Zombi’s irritation at the obviousness of the obviousness of their source material is them missing the point and doing themselves a disservice; it’d be far better to for them to cop to their Goblin emulation and move forward from there.
The Digitalis EP demonstrates one direction the group could head. As well as the titular album cut, it includes “Siberia,” four-and-a-half minutes of icy slow creep and vocal formant synth choir sounds. The highlight, though, is “Sapphire” which, taking its cue from the later career of Goblin main man Claudio Simonetti, is spaced-out fake Italo disco—beautifully balanced and spacious, with spiralling chords and arpeggi-quack resting on the simplest of four-to-the-floor disco drums. The drifting fog just outweighs the dry ice.
Reviewed by: Patrick McNally
Reviewed on: 2006-10-13