(Andy Synn reviews the debut album by Australia’s Sanzu.)
Stepping out of the shadow of your influences can be a tricky thing. Particularly when one of your major influences happens to have a fairly distinct and instantly recognisable sound of their own. Trying to put a fresh spin on things, to stamp it with your own identity whilst also maintaining a sense of continuity with your own vision of how you want things to sound… that’s hard.
One option, of course, is to simply say “fuck it” and just leave it all behind. You can see this in the host of ex-Deathcore and ex-Djent bands who, some by accident but many by design, quickly ended up straying pretty far from their roots, with their development and attempt to establish their own particular idiom pushing them outside the boundaries of their home-genre and leading them further and further away from their initial influences.
Of course… there’s another way. One that, like the method I’ve just described, comes with its own fair share of risks, but also offers up some tantalising rewards. And that’s to seize the sound of your influences with both hands, to grip it, and hold it, and crush it in your grasp and bellow “this is mine now”.
I’ll let you guess which one Sanzu have gone for on Heavy Over The Home.
Though their full-length debut, following on from their stellar Painless EP released earlier this year, still sees the Australian quintet continuing to walk proudly in the massive footprints of French titans Gojira, the sensation that grows over the course of the album is of a band not simply following the path laid out by others, but of a band decisively walking it on their own terms and determined to leave their own mark upon the trail.
A band who know exactly where they’re going, and who they’re sharing the road with. A band who’ve chosen their direction and are dead-set on making it their own.
A band whose own footprints might one day rival, and perhaps even eclipse, those who have gone before them.
Of course it helps that the extra space and time made available to them by the full-length format of this release has provided the Aussies with sufficient room to further expand and explore their sound. And whilst this sort of opportunity often comes with the risk of losing focus in the process, ultimately you can really hear and feel Sanzu growing into an absolute monster of a band on this album.
In a further move (though likely an unconscious one) to separate themselves from their Gallic forebears, the music on Heavy Over The Home finds the band cladding themselves ever-more firmly in a gleaming, hyper-dense Death Metal skin, one which lends its crushing power and unstoppable momentum to their enigmatic, elliptical songwriting style, churning and swelling and grinding like an ocean of elemental sound and fury, in a seamless marriage of form and function that I’ve chosen to dub “Southern Hemisphere Hydro-Groove”.
Opener “Old Orchard Floor” wastes little time in getting to the meat of things. Thirty-to-forty seconds of ominous coiled-steel guitar work and barely-restrained drums set the scene before the whole thing erupts in an unstoppable torrent of pure metallic force and writhing, biomech riffery that threatens to overwhelm you with its sheer sonic density alone, leading into the surging Death Metal ground and pound of “Phenomena”, whose frankly monstrous chuggery and heaving, neck-snapping rhythmic hooks allow the drums the first of many opportunities to really cut loose, both in terms of impressive technicality and sheer speed.
This phenomenally heavy and utterly irresistible opening-pairing immediately showcases just how much stronger and more powerful the band have become in the short interval between their debut EP and this album, with every member having levelled-up considerably in the intervening months.
The vocals of Zachary Andrews are particularly worth drawing special attention to, as his gnarled, gravel-throated bellow slots itself in seamlessly alongside the metallic racket conjured up by the rest of the band, like the missing piece to a puzzle you weren’t even aware was incomplete.
Having clearly pushed his range and refined his delivery since the release of the band’s debut EP, comparisons to both Joe Duplantier (Gojira) and Jens Kidman (Meshuggah) remain valid (alongside a definite tinge of SYL-era Devin Townsend, which becomes most apparent when his voice rises to a savage, scalding howl of fury), but – much like the band as a whole – these comparisons fail to fully capture the distinctive nuances and remarkable potency of his full-throated, authoritative performance.
That’s not to suggest that the vocals on Heavy Over The Home overwhelm the album or pull focus unnecessarily. Nothing could be further from the truth, in fact, as the raging power carefully cultivated and captured here derives itself from a fluid balance of give and take, ebb and flow, between each of the instruments, from the thickly coiled, boa-constrictor guitar lines of Jared Callow and Mikey Hart, to the creative, catastrophic percussive pounding doled out by drummer Ben Stanley (though it must be stated that bassist Fatima Curley occasionally gets lost in the tectonic rumble of the album’s low-tuned metallic thunder).
The winding contortions of “Ubiety” continue to build on that swollen, elemental feeling of the album, the crackling electricity and brooding intensity of the track disguising an undercurrent of metaphysical melody that occasionally breaks the surface in a glimmering crest of Post-Metal introspection, only to be swallowed once more beneath the rising tide of clanging metallic distortion.
“Tailor” is a marching armada of clattering, clamouring Death Metal riffage and armour-plated drum work that pushes things towards the more extreme end of the band’s delivery, throwing in some teasing pick-scrapes and stuttering blast-beats along the way as the song seems to grow and expand in exponential ferocity, before the writhing tremolo patterns and groaning, sledgehammer chords that introduce “Those Who Sleep In The East” pick up the baton and dive with it into deeper, more Immolation-y waters, where mammoth, elephantine riffs and monumental, leviathan grooves roll and turn in a stunning display of crushing, colossal heaviness.
While take-it-or-leave-it instrumental “Awaken” sounds more like the (impressively gripping) intro to a song that never appears, rather than a fully realised idea in its own right, it’s soon forgotten as the lumbering, gargantuan Death Metal power of the title track “Heavy Over The Home”, all seven minutes of it, rears its vast and monstrous bulk into view.
As a pulverising demonstration of sheer sonic power, this track really has no equal, even on a record of such undeniable weight and heaviness as this one. It’s the sound of a band pushing everything they have towards the breaking point, unleashing wave after wave of low-tuned, Richter-scale riffery and immense, intricate drum patterns, backed up by a bone-shaking bass presence that you can feel more than you can hear, alongside a devastating array of screaming, growling, howling, vocals that positively pulsate out of your speakers with actual physical force.
By contrast “The Chill” – though just over five minutes long itself – feels positively concise as a result, its taut, constricted riff work vibrating the very air around you and turning it as thick and dense as molasses, simultaneously infiltrating your body with a surging, gushing cascade of dense, driving hooks and pulsing, biomorphic rhythms that wrap themselves around your spine and force you into motion.
With “Loss” the band save one of their heaviest compositions for (almost) last… and that’s really saying something considering the sheer, almost physically palpable, sense of weight behind this album.
The song’s clanging, Post-Metal influenced early bars soon give way to an unstoppable, irresistible parade of pure Death Metal power that’s part old-school stomp, part hyper-modern crush that coils and squeezes the listener in its inevitable, inexorable embrace, before the ambient dissolution of “Colourblind” brings the whole thing to a breathless and exhausted close.
You’re probably aware that I had extremely high hopes for this album. And the fact that my hopes were so high meant that there was a real risk of disappointment if the band failed to live up to them. Thankfully, I can honestly say my faith was fully justified after just one listen to Heavy Over The Home… and I’ve been cranking it, loudly and repeatedly, ever since.
It’s not perfect of course – you could cut “Awaken” from the track-list without really losing anything, and I’m still divided over whether the lambent atmospherics of “Colourblind” make for an effectively understated, or entirely anticlimactic, climax to the album as a whole – but the overall package provides one of the heaviest, deepest, and most intimately rewarding (not to mention crushing) listening experiences I’ve had all year.
So let’s hear it for Sanzu… the undisputed masters of Southern Hemisphere Hydro-Groove!
The album will be released on December 3. Order on Bandcamp and check out two tracks below.