As a longtime synth junkie and geeky collector of old-school electronic music from the likes of Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, Tomita, Jean-Michele Jarre, Synergy, Kraftwerk and so on – and an even nerdier devotee of Goblin’s entire musical output – it’s a given that I’m going to slide any new release from Zombi right to the top of my playlist, which is already weird enough to scare off virtually everyone I know (except the woman who once bought me the works of Popol Vuh for my birthday, further reminding me why I married her). The reason is simple: if you dig any or all of the music I’ve listed in this paragraph, then you will wrap yourself in the sounds of this Pittsburgh-based duo like you would your favorite fleece blanket in the dead of winter… assuming you live somewhere with actual seasons. But I digress.
After a stunning success and cult following grown from their official debut Cosmos, the combo of Steve Moore and A.E. Paterra expanded their vintage analog grooves to an even more cosmic scale with the colder, more crystalline-sounding follow-up Surface to Air, and Steve Moore’s solo project The Henge nearly verged on Hearts of Space territory with its interstellar navel-gazing vibe… but lo and behold, they’ve upped the galactic ante yet again with the release of Spirit Animal – which came out this week from Relapse Records – with indulgently gargantuan tracks (five in total comprise the album’s one-hour length) that resolutely blow up their artistic canvas to a size that, if I may abuse my metaphors again, would have intimidated Jackson Pollack. I daresay this may be Zombi’s most overtly prog-rock album, sometimes recalling the ‘70s works of King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Roxy Music, and Emerson Lake & Palmer – while never straying too far from that beloved Goblin vibe.
Along with the sonic landscape, the diversity of the band’s instrumentation has expanded as well… the usual core of vintage analog synths, bass guitar and drums has now incorporated guitars into the mix (though mostly limited to the opening track), and although Zombi purists may be taken aback by this inclusion, I have to say as one of those fans that this is a good thing, and meshes perfectly with the intricate arpeggios, constantly-mutating rhythms and expansive sonic monoliths that Moore and Paterra craft so well.
Verifying the band’s progressive intentions right out of the gate is the first of two title tracks, clocking in at 14 minutes. It's a breathtaking run through Zombi's entire musical range, broken into several repeating sequences beginning with warm Mellotron choruses, then slipping into warmly overdriven guitar & bass and a juicy synth lead. The middle portion cools down to a quietly pensive piano and guitar melody that seems lifted straight out of mid-'70s era Genesis, morphing into a massive climax of synth, choir and even church bells... a cosmo-rock lover's dream come true. The second “Spirit Animal” cut is shorter but no less monolithic, opening with one of the band's trademark bouncy synth & bass arpeggios, sounding for all the world like a wicked cue from the car chase in a long-lost Italian poliziotteschi crime film.
The more menacing “Earthly Powers” opens with an eerie, dissonant synth rhythm pattern, which it pursues through several different mutations of style and tempo, then segues into a more harmonic, softer section before bookending with a reprise of the eerie opening theme. “Cosmic Powers” is probably the most uniformly consistent track, with fewer dynamic changes, but it still rides dirty, kicking off with a certain John Carpenter Escape from New York feeling until a squelchy bass line comes lumbering in to underpin the higher synth textures. The aptly-named “Through Time” tips the scales at a whopping 17 minutes, and has all the feeling of a frenetic extended jam session, pinned down to a non-stop gut-busting bass line that never wears out its welcome. Seriously, I could groove to that hypnotic low rumble and the accompanying silky leads for hours.
So here's the deal: if I've managed to convince you that I'm a complete dork who obsesses over vintage progressive synth-rock, then... well, you're probably not far off the mark there. But if there's something in you that hears this music and instantly calls up fond memories of your first gore-drenched Fulci flick, or puts you in the mind of Ken Wahl racing a silver Porsche down the rain-slicked streets of East Berlin... well, then you're just as pathetically hopeless as I am. But at least you'll be having fun with your dementia. Plus, the album's available on vinyl too! Come on, just let it happen.