ZUD’s A Wilderness Left Untamed is a big album, and not just in its nearly hour-long length. It’s brimming with ideas and bursting with energy. It’s fiendishly clever, but never comes off as calculating or manipulative. It’s ambitious, but not in the sense that, in the case of some other bands, could mean overreaching or even pretentious. It’s just hugely effective in tapping into primal urges in the untamed way that the best of the devil’s music always does, and it does that in very distinctive fashion.
The music is also damned catchy, damned adrenalizing, damned filthy, and… just plain damned. From minute to minute you can alternately rock out, careen about like a crazy person in a delirious frenzy, drift off into hallucinogenic reveries, engage in a lusting orgy, feed like a vampire, and let your freak flag fly like it’s 1969. And on top of all that, the band also rise up in moments of epic, luciferian majesty.
In a nutshell, with October fast approaching, you’ve just found the perfect accompaniment to Devil’s Night.
What makes ZUD’s current sound so distinctive is their hybridization of different strains of metal and rock, harnessing them together like a team of wild stallions and somehow getting them to pull together. You could say that the two lead horses are Scandinavian black metal (both first and second wave) and psychedelic rock from the late ’60s and early ’70s, but they’ve got other breeds under their whip hand as well. If you’re familiar with ZUD’s debut album, 2013’s The Good, The Bad and the Damned, you’ll definitely notice some changes, but for this listener, it’s all good — all very good.
After an introductory track (“Sleep Talking”) that becomes a growing cacophony of skittering bird sounds, muffled voices, and piercing ambient tones, you get the first full taste of what ZUD have cooked up in “Thundercats Don’t Play Dead“. Blast-beats, swarming riffs, and a thundering bass plant the flag in black metal territory, but it doesn’t take long for the band to pull it up and plant it elsewhere. They hit a pulse-punching rock riff laced with a mind-bender of a lead, and from there it’s off to the races.
ZUD serve up the primal pulse of hard rock, the flensing ferocity of black metal, the head-twisting hallucinations of psychedelia, and the sweaty, sulfurous aroma of demons at play, capped with fret-burning, brain-melting soloing and infused throughout by a maelstrom of strident, vicious goblin snarls, throat-ripping howls, and wild animal cries in the vocal department. And that’s all just in one song.
The band do a great job plotting dynamic movement in the way they’ve arranged the songs on the album. And so the follow-on track “Mojave Rain” launches with the lead guitar delivering a reverberating squall set against the tumble of drums and heavy, ominous chords. After a bridge, a pneumatic bass drive provides the undercarriage for a deranged guitar performance, and then you find yourself lit up again by body-moving rock chords, a sinister occult melody, and more brilliant soloing. The song surges to a big crescendo. When it slows at the end, you’re left wrung out and dripping wet.
They do this kind of thing a lot over the course of the album, transitioning from feral rocking rhythms and fiery leads to tumultuous blast-beats and grim, rapacious ripping, and then on to thick, hallucinatory riffs and mind-altering arpeggios. But they throw in other surprises as well.
Perhaps the biggest one comes in the back half of the album with “The Way to the Forgotten Pond“. Perfectly placed after the dramatic, epic, demonic, and demented “Chasing the Dragon’s Tale“, the finale of which includes the wildest, most incendiary, most mind-melting solo on the album, “The Way…” is a slow, gloomy, and yet glowing instrumental, formed from the plaintive, dismal tones of an electrified string duet, an exotic guitar melody, and a soulful guitar solo.
There are two mammoth tracks on the album, both more than 10 minutes long. At the center of the album run is the first of those, “Off the Map“, which really is probably the album’s centerpiece. Crystalline notes and mysterious reverberating strings provide yet another surprise in the introduction, the bass comes in (always a significant and vibrant presence in this album, as is the drumming), and the strings elongate… with the music transforming into a psychedelic jam over the magnetic propulsion of the bass line. Many more changes lie ahead, and this review is already getting long without my trying to map them. But trust me… this song is an amazing achievement.
The other 10+ minute track is the closer, “Vuelo Final Para El Brujo“. It’s less dynamic than “Off the Map”, but it’s such an exciting non-stop surge of vibrant energy, and so loaded with anthemic chords, trippy leads, and riveting solos (both slow and fast) that the time seems to fly by — even though it comes after more than 40 minutes of music have already passed.
We asked ZUD (who are located in Portland, Maine) for their thoughts about the album, and here’s their response:
“I don’t think any of us expected upon re-forming Zud, for what was to be one show, that two years later it would lead to the release of A Wilderness Left Untamed. But through a series of highly unexpected twists and turns, here we are and this album in its creation has taken the four of us down some pretty insanely hilarious roads.
“Though the songs in general are a bit shorter and there are more of them, the album is more diverse. There is a bit more depth to everything and despite that this will likely be the moment at which by some is looked back at as “when Zud tried to sell out,” the sound is clearly still very obviously that of Zud. In a way much more so than the last album.
“A Wilderness Left Untamed reflects in many ways the idea of coming to terms with various fears we go through in life and furthermore the idea of not being afraid to jump off the various cliffs we all encounter, no matter what the consequences may be. To not be afraid to break down walls and barriers, including the very ones which most black metal purists seem to blindly hind behind. To acknowledge the impermanence of everything around us while at the same time knowing that life is very short and when approached from a certain perspective, no matter how short may be, it can be a wild fucking ride.”
A Wilderness Left Untamed was engineered and mixed by Todd Hutchisen (East Of The Wall, Falls Of Rauros) at Acadia Recording Co in Portland, Maine, and mastered by Carl Saff (Grails, RVIVR, Unsane) in Chicago.
The ZUD lineup on the album was bassist Tim Walker (ex-ifandit), lead guitarist Nate Manning (ex-Cruel Hand, ex-Outbreak, ex-Bane), vocalist/guitarist Justin Curtsinger (ex-Gift Of Tongues), and drummer Darren Brown (Mome, ex-Sanctioned For A Riot).
ZUD plan to self-release the album, on CD this week (September 16) in time for their performance at the Shadow Woods festival in Maryland, and digitally at a later date. For more release info, watch these spaces: