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ZÖN - Desert Universe review

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Band: ZÖN
Album: Desert Universe
Style: Dark Ambient, Experimental, Drone metal
Release date: June 2018

01. The Journey
02. Rubidium Funeral Dirge
03. Desert Universe
04. Decurion And Steed

Imagine that you decided against going to the sands of Gran Canaria this year. Instead you went on a trip where you have problems to understand what you are experiencing. ZÖN is an avant-garde metal band from California, USA; Desert Universe is their third full-length.

Desert Universe is like a mammoth book; just looking at it make you wonder if you will ever get through it, or a text that looks a bit too long? It is a long album with songs around the 20-minute mark and and a total length that is over 80 minutes. But it isn't the length that is the biggest challenge; the challenge of ZÖN's album is getting something to hold onto, as your first listen will have you lost in its desert. Instead of a review, the album should come with a manual or a map: how do I listen to this album, how do I navigate in all this sound? I listened to parts of the album, had it on when I went to sleep, and at some point after some listens I began to recognize - the bassy start combined with the saxophone on the title song, or the bluesy guitar that goes into ritualistic chanting in "Rubidium Funeral Dirge", or the atmospheric start to "Decurion And Steed"... Once you start to recognize parts of this album, you will also slowly start to enjoy it.

Even now when I know the basics of this album it's hard to categorize. The term "avant-garde" feels mellow here. A band like Chaos Ech?s that works with improvisation is a lot more structured and traditionally metal-sounding. There's traces of Earth's psychedelic drone doom rock, but only bits and fragments, and Sunn O))) is probably bringing inspiration to this journey. If there is a core to this album, then it is improvisation that's connected to the state of the ZÖNhuman mind more than the state of traditional metal music structures. But it is a metal album - drone, doom, psychedelic rock, black metal, ambient, noise. A metal album that has more in common with something like Indian raga music, as the music is expansive but has some sound from which all other sounds build and start jamming around. Those jammy parts often float into a new sound that all the other sounds again start to revolve around. In the end, this is an extreme metal album that is mostly calm and meditative, that's imaginative and cinematic, and is pleasantly open to your interpretation.

(There're two paths; pick the right one and enjoy the desert universe. The first one: if you already know what's good or bad, you probably will be lost in this album's desert. The second path: if you suspend your knowledge of good or bad and just follows the album's lead, then you should be able to enjoy this.)

As with most uncompromising music, it's hard to evaluate this album with normal standards - what do I compare this to? The uncompromising sound tells me that ZÖN didn't plan to take anyone else with them on their cinematic journey. They take their journey whether anyone likes it or not and that probably is a good background to why Desert Universe is an album that doesn´t sound like anything else I have heard. It's a desert trip made out of psilocybin that will stay buried deep in the sands of the internet, to be found once again and hailed as the holy grail of improvised metal music.

Written by | 09.09.2018

Guest review disclaimer:
This is a guest review, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.

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