Review : Zealotry - The Last Witness by The Metal Observer

Updated: Jun 18

Via The Metal Observer : "The topic of progression in metal is a controversial one, doubly so in a time when it is as at once digging into its past and looking into a future. The question of what constitutes progression is a controversial one where you will only get quasi answers at best and even more questions branching out of them. Is it merely novelty; a fresh layer of paint on old rusted gears, giving us a temporary sense of awe before familiarity and boredom sets in again? The combination of a distinct style onto a normal one; the ordinary fused with the extraordinary, a showpiece for eclecticism at the cost of foundation-level integrity? Simply improving the technical skill involved; raising the bar for membership, yet changing little else? Personally, I believe that true progression, development, evolution or whathaveyou comes not from merely unusual influences or quantitative knowledge of technique, but rather a distinct perspective – one that can be composed of pieces that may be staples yet arranged and executed in a form that makes them something else in their entirety.

Where the new old school movement is caught between hollow worship and genuine attempts to re-interpret its origins, the brutal-technical modernists are busy wallowing in their own short-sighted excess, and the dissonant movement has become rather comfortable in its increasingly less alien tonalities, there have been those who stand apart from the three axes of death metal. Ghoulgotha, Blood Incantation, Kerasphorus, Pavor, Morbius, The Chasm, Diskord, Axis of Advance, Mitochondrion, and Boston’s Zealotry represent a movement that at once dwells on the fringes of death metal yet viciously expands that desolate frontier. While Zealotry are far from the first or the most well known of these, they are arguably the best example of a band that encapsulates not just the genre’s present but it’s rich, storied history. Taking inspiration from the genre’s 30+ year history, Zealotry’s ideas will not be unheard of to genre veterans yet it is how they have warped and adapted them for their own esoteric purposes and rendering it far from comfortingly familiar.

Compared to the gradually unfolding cycles of riffing that comprised their excellent 2013 debut, The Charnel Expanse, The Last Witness stands out immediately with the raw density of its layered instrumentation. While their technical capacities were far from lacking, now they have stolen the spotlight as the talents of all four musicians coalesce into a tapestry of writhing rhythms and coiling expanses of fluctuating tonalities. Make no mistake, Zealotry is not a band that has forgotten about the importance of well crafted riffage but how they ambiguously entwine consonance and dissonance leaves very little that would be considered even remotely catchy or immediately gut-wrenching as much as ominous and otherworldly. The meat of the songs revolves around the deadly duo of guitarists Roman Temin and Chthe’ilist cult leader Philippe Tougas whirling complex counterpoint patterns into luminous textures from which they draw out a variety of depth an elaboration upon central ideas and themes. A highly active drum performance from Inhumatus’ Alex Zalatan forms an undulating turbulent framework in which they can function, pulling out a variety of sharply timed accents and fills, and shadowing the swell and churn of the rhythm and yet not coming off as remotely showboating. While the bass was muffled on the last album, here Aodán Collins is equally prominent as both guitarists, their every movement answered by stalking, chunking basslines that flesh out the lower end and veer into additional layers of harmony and contrast, furthering the album’s unsettlingly alien mood.

All of this makes the album come off as more jazz-fusion esque than its predecessor yet not necessarily just by their rigorous playing which betrays an impressive range of influences (Allan Holdsworth, Timeghoul, Univers Zero, Adramelech, The Chasm, Gorguts, Immolation, Alf Svensson era At The Gates, Ved Buens Ende, Virus, Anata, Gorguts and numerous others). As previously stated, the emphasis on layered instrumentation is much stronger than on the debut and it affects how the composition of the songs as well. These eight tracks cycle through these intricate textural layers, orbiting around one another to build up familiarity and ambience, saving up momentum generated to surge through powerful diversions, often using solos to great effect as they capitalize on  expectation and frenetic execution in a mixture of Roman’s fusion ambivalence and Phil’s incendiary shredding. The riffing that ensues adds a more direct narrative approach to resolve prior strains of flurried delivery. It is in these moments the band wisely streamlines their delivery to bring the numerous hydra-like threads of development to their conclusion. Longer phrases slither in, creeping like hunting centipedes, stretching out to grasp at and fulfill the development of the underlying threads woven beneath the watery line between melody and discordance. It sounds fairly complex and the actual playing will likely take repeated listening to follow. Structurally however this is fairly concise and contained if compared to groups like Obliteration and The Chasm. Repetition is used notably but rather than being an artistic crutch, it works quite well to help re-contextualize itself in the wake of a song’s progression and provide closure where there might otherwise be confusion and amorphousness.

I’ve described Zealotry elsewhere as being a kind of convergence point for various threads of death metal modern, classic, and dissonant in nature but the more I listen, the more there’s the sneaking suspicion this generalization works increasingly less. On both levels of its mystifying aesthetic and underlying content, The Last Witness is a masterwork of death metal and a testament to the possibilities still ripe for exploration in the genre. It’s a rare fusion of high-tech craftsmanship, morbidly esoteric science fiction lyricism, and meticulously crafted compositions that doesn’t come around very often. At the same time, in spite of its initial inaccessibility, there’s a lot it offers to a wide variety of extreme metal fans across the spectrum, assuming they can tolerate just how much it lets loose upon the listener right from its opening moments. I doubt Zealotry will come to be the model upon which future iterations of death metal oddballs will base themselves on (and for the better) yet they’re emblematic of the changing attitudes and mindsets within the genre. Not just concerning progression/evolution but also what lies at the heart of death metal; it multifaceted nature that continues to voice itself in unexpected ways that challenge conventional notions of what does and doesn’t constitute moving forward amongst the genre’s numerous factions. Having produced two albums amongst the elite of recent times, the future remains promising for Boston’s finest and the fractured movement of which they form the spearhead." 9.5/10

Originally written by Julius Chan for The Metal Observer

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