Zealotry is a Boston based death metal band and they have been around since 2009, when they released their first demo. The Last Witness is their sophomore album and my first exposure to their music. Their members play in various other known bands. Tougas, for example, plays in Chthe’ilist, who released an impressive debut album earlier this year, and First Fragment, who will release their first full-length in the next month. Zealotry play a unique and difficult-to-approach death metal and The Last Witness is a tough nut to crack, but once you’ve done that, you’ll be exposed to a mesmerizing creation.
But who is the last witness? And what is he a witness of? Let us begin from the artwork and then proceed to the music. Maybe this isn’t a very common approach, but neither is Zealotry’s music.
What I find impressive about the artwork is that it gives away a sense of totality. The all-Seeing Eye is the creator which gave life through the double helix DNA, taking root in the ground like a tree. Different life forms appear and among them are birds and humans approaching the center of creation, reflecting the unending search of man for god or the overmind.
I think it reflects the overmind’s power over mankind; a force that leads man toward ascension, but in the expanse of creation itself, as it is described in Arthur C. Clarke’s sci-fi novel Childhood’s End”. Or it could be viewed as the technical social construct of control and power over all. A man-made creation, through the means of eugenics, that will give birth to absolute control, since everything and everyone will be predetermined from their birth — automatons that are endlessly repeating programmed tasks in a dystopian world, where freedom doesn’t exist even as a word. The all-Seeing Eye is not god, but a machination for control.
The artwork may reflect the lyrical themes and the loose sci-fi concept of the album, but in a way it reflects the aesthetics and the music displayed within it. It is as dark, distorted, and twisting as it is progressive, complex, and adventurous. It is death metal that could be described as progressive in its true sense. It is not about the myriad of notes and the solos and the technicality, but about the complex structures of the songs. They feel as if they are morphing, shifting spheres that change the surface of what we see, but always remain solid in the core. Imagine gigantic orb structures that change shape in time, yet remain the same in essence; that essence being, Death Metal.
The songs move from the basic structures into an exploration of new territories. Each instrument speaks its own tongue, creating a communication of seemingly different languages. A conversation of individuals, where each one has something unique to say and express on a collage of impressions, painting an overwhelming and at times mystical and difficult-to-uncover story.
In order for The Last Witness to uncover itself it must be listened to with full attention. The listener must allow himself, or herself, to sink into it, in an effort to experience the totality of it. There are so many different expressions and paths taken on each song that it may bewilder the listener. It is exciting and at times exhilarating and adventurous, aggressive and atmospheric, subtle and attractive, like a secret that wants to be exposed, but finds it almost impossible to do so. It is death metal that offers a wide range of impressions and emotions through structures that take surprising forms.
The movement of the guitars stands out in Zealotry’s music as their most unique and impressive asset. From riffs, they move into a chatter of lead guitars, merging into the bass lines and under the voice, and then they turn into solos that move in swirling formations. They feel like a conversation between the voice and the guitars. Sometimes they cooperate and stand together and at other times they take different paths. The bass has a very distinctive role, too. It is clear in every song, holding more specific forms and placed just above the drums. Their music may bring to mind the progressive death metal music of the ‘90s and a number of bands whose complexity was what made them known. Gorguts, Incantation, Atheist, Demilich, and others can be mentioned, but only as references and not as direct influences.
The songs, even though they stay the same with each listen, having the same notes with the same structure, still change every time you listen to them. They feel like a magical book, where every time you open it, something different appears. The words have changed place and the story changed form, the characters are different and they take different paths, they make different choices that have different impacts on themselves. Maybe it reflects the current mood of the listener, like a mystical mirror, or maybe it is the listener itself who changes form, exposing different faces every time.
The Last Witness feels so wide-ranging and complex that even after a lot of repeated listens, it still amazes me. It is not an easy album, but it is so interesting and filled with impressions and imageries that will stand the test of time. This is one of the best death metal albums I’ve heard this year, even if I can’t completely pinpoint why or express specifically what it is that I like so much about it. I would say the guitars, but if there wasn’t so much depth created by the bass and the drums, the ambience and the samples that are being used in places, the different vocals and the change in pace and paths, then I wouldn’t spend so many words trying to explain why I like it so much, without really explaining anything. And this might be the best/worst compliment I have ever made for an album.
The Last Witness will be released on April 22 by Lavadome Productions.