It’s hard to imagine that the group behind these two pensive, funereal epics, out now on House of Mythology, is the same one that released Cortar Todo, a kaleidoscopic mélange of thudding post-metal, just two years ago. But such is the case with Zu, which has been upending expectations and rewriting formulas for the better part of its now-two-decade, post-everything run. The new record is not really a rite of passage requiring a sonic midwife then, as much as its Tibetan and Sufi influences might beg to suggest, so much as another cog in the wheel. Yes – but what rotation!
Jhator’s side-length, 20-odd-minute-long tracks are deceptively composed, the simple being complex and the complicated shredded down to its roots, and this makes, at times, for challenging engagement. But when it hits, man, does it hit.
Rather than chug away and stop on a dime, as was their modus operandi for much of Cortar Todo, the trio here is interested in ebbing and flowing between themes, and the resulting patterns are at once both familiar and vaguely cyclical. There’s some stunning composition, a fair portion of it shadowed (but not overshadowed) by atmospherics, and the closing minutes of the opening “A Sky Burial” are utterly transcendent, by any measure. But that doesn’t seem to be the point. Zu isn’t delivering messages writ large here and Jhator, for all its circles, seems more concerned with mood than simple melody. So, we got a lot of passages that come and go, themes that are toyed with and then released, and musical concepts and refrains that sometimes don’t wander toward concrete conclusions. (Much the same could be said of a long life lived, which these guys appear to be referencing throughout the proceedings.)
First listens are not always kind to this one. Those expecting the band’s usual gravitas will be surprised by the often instrument-less instrumentation and the spartan recording techniques employed. But it’s worth hanging in there, because Jhator flowers and, once on full display, its range of colors can be entrancing. Take the pristinely recorded, acoustic Eastern string motifs that start “The Dawning Moon of the Mind;” stripped bare but still somehow sweetly ornate, they deliver the requisite emotion as they are supplemented and nearly supplanted by Oval-esque electronic glitch. And this is just one piece of the puzzle. Within moments, we are treated to drone-horn-blaze and a kind of sonic descent and the whole thing closes with a synth-saturated moonscape, appropriate to its title.
It’s hard to guess whether Zu will follow the path they’ve charted on Jhator or it will be just another experiment, just another transgression. Cortar Todo or Jhator or no, I’ll be looking forward to the next one from these guys, and you should, too.