Monday, July 25, 2016

Album Review: Zodiac - Grain Of Soul

We always applaud originality in a band, but we seldom consider the downside of that quality; namely that when you crave more of that sound, there isn't any other option out there. You are strangled by the lack of supply. It was in the search for more bands that sound like the almighty Graveyard that I encountered Zodiac. Their last album, "Sonic Child", fit the bill as a record that was a throwback in sound, but a diverse collection of songs that made sure every part counted. I was late to the party, but I enjoyed it quite a bit as a record that knew the right way to write classic rock. So hearing that Zodiac was not only back, but was going to be releasing the heaviest record of their career, I was certainly intrigued by the possibilities that meant, while at the same time worrying that such a focus on one aspect of their sound could be a harbinger of issues.

Both sides of that coin are evident throughout "Grain Of Soul". This is certainly Zodiac's most focused, heaviest record yet. There aren't many detours from the simple riff-heavy sound that the initial singles hinted at. If you heard "Rebirth By Fire", with its swaggering riff and minimalist chorus, you already have a good idea of what to expect from the rest of the album. The surprises that come are not in the form of what sound each successive song with have, but rather in the form of whether or not Zodiac is going to stick to what they do best.

There are two groups of songs that make up this record, one being fantastic, and one being opportunities I feel are missed. When Zodiac is writing songs that focus on delivering catchy riffs and hooks, and layering the vocals in the choruses, they are a heck of a rock band. The aforementioned son, along with numbers like "Follow You" and "Down", are every bit as good as Graveyard is. "Down", in particular, is a remarkably effective song that uses its extra time to build tension, and then release it in the best hook on the entire record. It shows Zodiac taking what they already did well, and use the production to up the impact through the weight of the guitars.

But there are also songs that don't fulfill that promise. "Animal" has an almost Motorhead pacing, and culminates in a chorus that is too bare-bones to really have melody to it. It's pure rhythm, and misses out on what good vocals can add. But the worst song is easily "Crow", which is the lone three minute detour from heavy rock. That would be a good thing, except it's a bluesy country number that has no point to it whatsoever, and even less melody. It's poorly written, and doesn't belong on this album.

Despite putting it in the disappointing category, I can't complain about "Animal" much. "Crow" is the only song here that isn't worth its time, and other than that one obvious failure, Zodiac delivers quality hard rock that balances riffs and vocals where both are given their chance to shine, and both are considered important enough to make memorable. There are some missteps here and there, and I prefer the sprawl of "Sonic Child", but "Grain Of Soul" is a solid record that does its job. There's more than enough good material on here to make it a record well worth hearing.

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