(In this post, DGR reviews the new album by Sweden’s Zonaria.)
Zonaria are one of the first bands I have ever found myself waiting for a long time to produce a new album. The four-year gap between the group’s latest release Arrival Of The Red Sun and their previous disc The Cancer Empire was almost painful. I cannot fathom what it is like being a fan of Necrophagist or Wintersun by this point (I still don’t believe Time exists) and just constantly waiting for that new release to come out.
I got into Zonaria after randomly stumbling upon the group’s video for the song “At War With The Inferior”, which is a pretty slow yet epic-sounding song that picks up a bit at the end. I was overjoyed when I got a hold of The Cancer Empire and found that the band had the chops to go incredibly fast as well, and were a huge-sounding collective who had the melo-death speed but seemed heavily influenced by Hypocrisy. The similarity is commonly pointed out by this point, and yeah, it is very much there, especially if you listen to Hypocrisy’s latest, but Zonaria have nonetheless always felt like their own band anyway.
They’re a young group from Umea, Sweden, who have just nailed it from the get-go, with the only real roadblock being the gap between this latest release and the previous one. I’ve been chomping at the bit for the new one and was excited as hell when I heard the few songs they had released in advance. The music was different enough, and the guitars seemed a little thinner, but it still retained the band’s massive, apocalyptic sound. However, those were only two songs, and there are ten on Arrival Of The Red Sun. So how does the rest of the album hold up?
From the beginning, Arrival Of The Red Sun makes it clear that this album is going to be really goddamn guitar-heavy. The opening song, which is also the titular track, has frontman and vocalist Simon Berglund just tearing away at his guitar after a quick battering of drums. Previously, the band used their guitars a lot to build up heavy, crunchy rhythms but left most of the melody or lead in any song to be carried by the symphonic elements. This time around, the symphonic elements are muted by comparison to The Cancer Empire and the guitar work takes the spotlight for a good chunk of the disc.
Simon also sounds a little more gruff this time around. He has a harsh bark going alongside his more standard yell, and the two are oft-combined into something that sounds even more fierce. It makes things sound more organic, whereas in Zonaria’s prior two albums his voice was mixed into a crushingly huge wall of sound, reminiscent of Behemoth with the vocals melding into everything else and the lower roars drowned by the guitars. Now, though the impact is still huge, the mix has been changed to highlight a vocal style that sounds more melodic-death-metal-focused. It makes Arrival Of The Red Sun sound like a more guitar-focused disc with the vocals sitting on top.
That said, the more things change, the more they do stay the same, especially when you factor in the subject matter. Once again, Zonaria have created another release with a thematic predisposition toward the apocalypse, violence, and anything having to do with gunfire. Basically, if you like your war and destruction, then Arrival Of The Red Sun should be good for you. Although I catch the dying sun reference, very little heed is paid to it on the album.
Despite my absolute adoration for Zonaria’s prior releases, one of my biggest bitches when it came to The Cancer Empire was that it felt like the songs had been written in pairs. “Contra Mundum” and “At War With The Inferior”, for example, were both the slower songs that sounded similar in the opening before only taking a turn about 3/4ths of the way through. Arrival of The Red Sun doesn’t have this issue, despite being about the same length and having the same number of tracks (unless you have the limited edition, which includes the song “CC Cowboys” — I haven’t heard it yet so I can’t pass judgement at the time of this review). Each song on this album is pretty goddamn individualistic, while bearing the usual Zonaria hallmarks.
The music also moves at a faster clip, up until the end where you hit songs such as “Face My Justice”. Then things slow down a bit, though the music remains awesome. I like when Zonaria go fast (see “Liberation Zero”, holy shit), and they stick to that for the most part. It’s a blistering album – it doesn’t move at hyperspeed, but goes fast enough that it doesn’t sound like the band are being muddled by their own yearning for the epic.
In many of the songs on Arrival Of The Red Sun, Zonaria have also adopted a more militaristic, blast-laden approach as well. A couple of sections on this disc are propelled forward by a healthy hammering on the drums, with the guitars and vocals just marching along with them; the title track and “Gunpont Salvation” are the prime examples. Since the band have also altered the role of the orchestration, using it more for atmosphere than for carrying the main melodies, you’ll also find a larger presence for standard, piano-sounding synth.
As mentioned before, the guitars are huge. There’s some serious whammy-bar abuse, too, with quite a few screamers erupting before a movement in a song takes off. They chug along really loudly to fit in with the music’s more militaristic atmosphere, but when they are let loose you’ll find some damn solid leads and occasional speed-fueled soloing.
The group have also added a new bassist named Max Malmer, and he fits in well with the music. Zonaria’s style doesn’t really enable a bass player to stand out, as one might in a tech-death band, and since the band play in a pretty low tuning to begin with, he really feels like he is there to add texture…which he does. The one time he really does stand out is in “The Blood That Must Be Paid”. There, he seems to be at the end of each guitar riff, just chugging away until the rest of the band pick up again.
Zonaria mentioned on their Facebook page that the drums were recorded separately and everything else recorded later, but you really can’t tell. It’s a solid mix.
With their enormous sound and thematic focus, I like to imagine that Zonaria would be one of those bands who would play a concert at the end of the world during Armageddon, alongside groups such as Behemoth, Ulcerate, Hypocrisy, and maybe Gojira. It’s fitting that the singer opens one of the songs on Arrival Of The Red Sun just screaming ‘Arma-fucking-gedddon!’.
Though the long wait for the album and Zonaria’s silence in between this release and the last one were frustrating, all is now well. Arrival of the Red Sun has a sense of the familiar that will be comforting to the band’s fans, yet it also feels like something that has been forged in a new way, with enough changes in the Zonaria formula to justify the time between discs. It shows again that Zonaria are a force to be reckoned with. Though they are a group of young guys, their discography just feels so impressive already. Arrival Of The Red Sun has the epic scale that so few bands do well these days. With a predisposition toward violence and the apocalypse, it seethes heavy metal, and although the long gap between albums has been rough, it was so very worth it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Arrival of the Red Sun is out now on Listenable Records. Zonaria can be found on Facebook here. And here are a few tracks from the new release, which are streaming on Zonaria’s FB band page:
“Arrival of the Red Sun”
[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/01-Arrival-of-the-Red-Sun.mp3|titles=Zonaria – Arrival of the Red Sun]
[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/04-Liberation-Zero.mp3|titles=Zonaria – Liberation Zero]
[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/02-Silent-Holocaust.mp3|titles=Zonaria – Silent Holocaust]