I noted the excitement on Facebook when Rotten Cotton made the announcement that they would be re-releasing the Symphony of Fear CD set and got the idea to plug one of my favorite bands that I think a lot of you would dig. (If you don’t already) That band is non other than Pittsburgh space rock/progressive rock/whatever outfit, Zombi. If you’re into a lot of old horror and sci-fi soundtrack music, you’ll want to check these guys out. It’s like Lucio Fulci and John Carpenter dropped acid and decided to jam in space.
How fitting it is that a band named Zombi would hail from the American capital city of zombies, Pittsburgh? The name could be slightly misleading when considering the current evolution of their sound. However, in their early E.P.s you will find not one, but two covers of Fabio Frizzi’s “Sequence 8” from Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2. While in more recent interviews they have referred to some of their early work as “kitschy”, I think most horror fans could definitely dig those two tracks if nothing else. That said, Zombi produces some pretty unique music that I feel a lot of genre fans could really sink their teeth into. Even though they’ve come a long way from dwelling primarily within the world of Italian horror soundtracks, they retain the sound that I fell in love with back in 2004.
Zombi, in earlier days.
The earliest incarnation of the band began back in 2001 as a free jazz/noise, drums and alto-sax duo. I’ve never heard any of that stuff, because I wasn’t at the one or two shows they played at. According to this interview, later the same year they came up with the idea to work as a drums and bass duo with both members playing synthesizers. Initially this was a favor to a friend who needed an opener for a show. Steve Moore said this about the formation of what would become Zombi:
“…So I called Tony and we came up with the idea of being a drums/bass guitar duo with both of us also playing synthesizers, sort of like a John Carpenter meets Goblin vibe. Back in 2001 it wasn’t quite as common to find bands citing JC and Goblin as major influences – it was almost like we were doing something “original.” We wrote a half hour worth of music in like 3 or 4 rehearsals, played two shows, then recorded our first self-released CDR. At least one of the tracks was recorded in Tony’s kitchen.”
Their sound has evolved much since then, but definitely retains those John Carpenter style synth meets Goblin influences. On their original more Goblin-influenced sound, Steve Moore had this to say (Same interview):
“When we first started playing together we were coming from a no-wave/post-punk background, and Pittsburgh in general was still recovering from the math-rock explosion of the 90’s – I think you can definitely hear that in Cosmos and Surface to Air. We called it prog rock but it was really math rock with synthesizers.”
With each successive record they’ve grown more epic in scope and more confident in execution. It’s Claudio Simonetti with a funkier bass line, Yes with less bullshit and no vocals, John Carpenter but more adventurous, horror influenced Krautrock that you can dance to, it’s just plain awesome.
A.E. Patera and Steve Moore
I first became aware of Zombi during the two-member band craze of the early-to-mid aughts. The White Stripes had made it cool and bands like Hella, The Black Keys and Lightning Bolt were popping out of the woodwork. Zombi was another one of those bands. Their sound stands far apart from the other duos who came to prominence during that time. Where most two person bands were about stripping down to the bare essentials, namely guitar and drums, Zombi’s sound is hugely cinematic. Just to illustrate this point, I’m a fan of Zombi practically for the same reason I’m a fan of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and that band has eight members! Zombi’s two musicians’, A.E. Patera and Steve Moore, use of drums, bass and intricately programmed synthesizers create sound-scapes that bring to mind everything from 2001:A Space Odyssey to the original Dawn of the Dead and all the spaces in between.
Cosmos was their first record on a major label and an excellent starting point for the band. I’ll admit that I was first drawn to them by their name and the fact that I had read their music was inspired by 70s and 80s horror soundtracks. I wasn’t even aware that they had a record out. Then one day in a local music shop there it was, like a lost space-rock kitten waiting to be taken home. It was plastered with hopeful, record label produced, stickers: “If you like… you’ll love Zombi!” trying to promote their new acquisition. I guess their label wasn’t so sure about their marketability yet. (They’re on Relapse, who primarily seem to promote metal bands.) Naturally I bought it instantly and hurried to my car to get a listen. Like most of their albums, Cosmos works best if looked at as one complete piece of music separated into different movements. I think they get referred to as progressive largely because of their spacey sound, but that is such an ill-defined genre nobody seems to be able to say exactly what it is anymore. Anyway, this first album is definitely more on the spacey side but retains most of their original influences. A good track to get a feel for this one would be the triumphant first song, “Orion”:
THE ZOMBI ANTHOLOGY
Zombi Re-releases their two first E.P.s
On the positive reception of Cosmos, Zombi decided to re-release their first two eps: Zombi Demo and Twilight Sentinel. I believe this was originally a limited release only available directly from the band. At least that’s how I ordered it when it first came out. Now it’s pretty easy to come by, by download, used CD or otherwise. It’s a great picture of the band’s origins and it has those two covers from the Zombi 2 soundtrack. This is one of their only releases, however, that I don’t listen to regularly. I love those two covers but overall it’s a little rough. I think fans of 70s Italian horror soundtracks will still get some enjoyment but for a better picture of the band I would start either with Cosmos or their second or third major label releases, that I will get to in a moment. This is, in my opinion, the better of those two covers I mentioned:
SURFACE TO AIR
Their second release on Relapse, Surface to Air, is what I consider their major transitional record. Most of it still has the same spacey sound of Cosmos but you start to get hints of the new territory they will mine in their next release. This is also the album where their songs start to get really long. The final track on the album clocks in at about 18 minutes. They use the time effectively though and, to me, the length is well worth the journey. For those reasons Surface to Air could quite possibly be the best starting point for a new listener, if you have to pick only one. You still get the spaced out stuff like the funky opener “Challenger Deep” and the incredible title track. However, if you want to get taste of what’s to come, you have to check out the epic closing track “Night Rhythms.” I challenge any horror fan to listen to that song in its entirety and not fall in love. Now don’t skip ahead, but the dramatic buildup starting at about 2:35 and the epic release at about 5:11 are a great example of what you can come to expect from Zombi. Check it out:
Their third release on Relapse, Spirit Animal, is probably my favorite. That changes often, but Spirit Animal is definitely a high point. Their sound feels very much fully formed, from their beginnings aping Italian soundtracks and John Carpenter synthesizer tracks, to the very epic sound that they have today. The release after this one veers more into the dancey side of things, which I like but feels too far removed from the reasons I fell in love with them. That’s not to say I don’t like it, but if I’m telling you about them because of their horror influences, it’s an important distinction to make. Spirit Animal begins with the title track which brings to mind Cannibal Holocaust for me. I’m not sure why that is, but when I listen to it, I imagine the green inferno filled with angry cannibals seeking revenge on their tormentors. Track lengths remain long, this time longer overall. Where Surface to Air only had the one long track, Spirit Animal has three that are over ten minutes. Again, all are well worth it, especially that first one. I couldn’t find a readily available full version for you to sample, so here’s the first 10 minutes, it cuts off the last four that contain what I consider one of the best payoffs in any Zombi song. Still, it’s worth a listen:
This is one I havn’t listened to as much. It’s newer, released in 2011, and like I mentioned earlier, it feels much closer to dance music (You hear this especially on the song “Shrunken Heads.”) than anything else they’ve produced, excluding the Digitalis Ep that I won’t cover here. (This song from it is killer though.) It still has all of the complex interplay between hypnotic synth, funky bass-lines and expert drum-work that the other albums had, but Spirit Animal still feels like a high watermark to me. I would say this though, if you listened to Spirit Animal and really liked it, give Escape Velocity a try. I’m just saying that if you’re attracted to Zombi specifically for their early cinematic influences, you won’t find as much of them here. Still, if you’re already on board, check it out. The title track starts the album off (all of their albums seem to start and end really strong. They really have an excellent ear for drama.) and it is my current favorite off this one. However, I couldn’t find it for you to listen to, so check out this one instead, it’s a spacey groove called “Time of Troubles”:
Look, obviously I love this band. If you don’t already, I hope you’ll check them out and fall for them like I did. A lot of us horror fans who listen to the old soundtracks have all probably wished that a band would produce new music that was reminiscent of them. Sure, there are tribute bands like Daemonia (Who is quite good if you haven’t listened to their Dario Argento tribute) and Goblin still occasionally does something or other but none that take the style to new places. Zombi does that in spades. So check ’em out and thank me later.
Just for fun, here’s Daemonia’s cover of the theme from Demons: