Describing themselves as “Middle Eastern mantra doom”, Moncton, Canada’s ZAUM really do not exhibit anything stereotypical about them. With the presence of creating pensive, brooding doom metal, ZAUM are able to simulate a mystic, theatrical presence for the listener just by hearing them after approximately two minutes. Their debut album Oracles is a fascinating auditory journey into the depths of the ancient Middle East (circa 300 BC – 600 AD) with an excess of textures to exacerbate particular segments of the musical aura ZAUM portray.
“Zealot” is the slow, visceral opener which captures the imagination into a dream-like rhythmic march, where the percussion is not necessary technical but purely heavy and punishingly vivid. Notorious for its noticeably heavy undertone, the soaring vocals on display from Kyle McDonald (frontman of Shevil) portray similarities to voices of several Middle Eastern anthems, complimenting the increasingly slow and psychedelic opener, as well as the album theme.
Within the opening minutes of “The Red Sea”, the listener can envision images of desert ruin and barren wasteland; the echoed textures portray the imagery in perfect fashion, extending the atmospheric nature of this instrumental section. Synthetic in execution and noticeably absent are features of typical metal work – specifically, riffs. As in “Zealot”, there is a distinct lack of physical guitar riff-work which comprises the songs’ backbones. What ZAUM do in this sense is execute simplistic lines of bass and synth, thus creating the depth of their lethargic heaviness, similarly to the bands OM, Sleep, Bong and Sun O))). As “The Red Sea” continues, McDonald’s vocals create the magnificent sense of purer doom metal, whilst the aforementioned synthesised bass provides the undertone for which Oracles continues to pace itself.
It really is important to mention that while the songs on Oracles peak at 14 minutes in length, they are far removed from the conventional progressive metal release. Absent are the conventions for creating extensively long pieces of music for the sake of heaviness. What remains is a consistent ethereal ambience that envisions a constant theme, with the music providing the very themes of Middle Eastern history; themes of religious motives and ideals, and its reputation which leads to war. ZAUM envisage that perfect journey.
“Peasant Of Parthia” opens with what appears to be a pipe organ-originated melody, before ushering into a thunderous explosive bass line. Once again, as typical metal guitar work is noticeably missing, the percussive progression and Kyle McDonald’s continued operatic vocal presence continue to flourish, perceptibly more rhythmic. Christopher Lewis (of the stoner rock band Iron Giant), at the drum helm, is able to execute a consistently heavy, accentuated speed whilst complimenting the right layers of cymbal and tom work to not feel excessively technical. Technicality is not what ZAUM are going for – thus why they are actually creating something original and evocative.
Closing the album is the anthemic beast in the form of “Omen”. Once again with the slow, raw-toned intro, “Omen” can only promise to bring just that in the form of psychedelic doom metal with astute influences. As the bass line takes shape, the punishingly heavy and slow drums enter shortly afterwards, creating yet another medium of synthetic depth. The vocals then narrate: “Godspeed to those among us/Thou shalt commence with speech/Ground troops will defend thee/Pillage all who dare to sleep” incurring vivid poetic imagery of a war march across an empty wilderness. McDonald’s vocals in “Omen” are evident for not actually being sung; rather a narration with spoken word in its purest form. The anthemic vocals re-emerge approximately 8 minutes into the dominating epilogue, harmonised effectively to create a choral atmosphere.
As it approaches its conclusion, “Omen” displays a systematically evil sequence. As the pace noticeably slows, the vocals re-emerge again more demonic and snarly; “Chambers of the flame guard the secrets in the remains/Promised placed upon the man who seeketh retribution/Fragments inform portioned words ascend a funeral fire/Concealed a truth from an absent man of Zion”. As if this weren’t reminiscent of the mouth of Satan himself enough, ZAUM are able to thicken their craft and deliver a final explosive punch that haunts the mind after hearing it.
If you are reading this hoping for a conventional doom metal album, then you will be sadly mistaken. Oracles is an excursion into a realm of previously unheard of doom and psychedelic depth, possessing an almost deity-like presence vocally. It will either grip you until the very end or you will be immediately be unable to grasp its powerful, explicitly versatile nature. Thankfully, I find it to be worthy of many, MANY more listens.
Not to be taken lightly.
2. The Red Sea
3. Peasant Of Parthia
Kyle Alexander McDonald – bass/vocals/synth/textures
Christopher Lewis – drums