Zoroaster, Matador (2010)
There’s a repeated line in the opener of Zoroaster‘s Matador (review here) that would seem to sum up the entire attitude of the album. It goes: ‘Don’t tell me how to die.’ I’m not sure if I’d call it part of a chorus, but it comes up once or twice in “D.N.R.” and as the last line of the song, is the lead-in to the bizarro crush that follows throughout the Atlanta-based doomers’ 2010 swansong. I recall when I first heard the record — which arrived just one year after their second outing, 2009’s Voice of Saturn (review here), as their debut on E1 Music — it took a while to settle in, and by that I mean I didn’t completely understand what the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Will Fiore, bassist/vocalist Brent Anderson and drummer Dan Scanlan were doing with their sound. I’d followed their progress since their 2005 self-titled CD demo through the self-released 2007 debut, Dog Magic, and on from there, and everything they did from outing to outing showed clear growth from one to the next, but when the nine-track/44-minute Matador hit with its swirling, Sanford Parker-produced spaciousness, the prevailing vibe was so weird that I was caught almost entirely off-guard. One expected big riffs and grooves from Zoroaster. One didn’t expect the chants and meditations of “Old World.” It took some getting used to.
On the off-chance you clicked the review link in the first sentence of this post, you’ll see I did eventually adjust my consciousness to Matador‘s wavelength. Took me a minute, but I got there. The record came out in July 2010 — I had an interview with Fiore up to mark the release; spoke to him a few times over the years and he never remembered me but was always cool to talk to — and by then I was ready to proclaim it one of the year’s best. Six years later, I stand by that. It would wind up being Zoroaster‘s final album, but at the time, Matador sounded like it was just the beginning, and in that blend of psychedelia and the churning sludge from whence they emerged, Fiore, Anderson and Scanlan discovered a sound that was truly their own — one only bolstered by Parker‘s production. Their years of hard touring paid off in pure aesthetic achievement, and whether it was the rawer thrust of “Ancient Ones,” the soaring leads of “Trident,” the meaner shouts of “Black Hole” or the languid vibes of “Odyssey II,” a companion-piece to righteous and deceptively catchy third cut “Odyssey,” and the final gravity well of its title-track, Matador was immersive across its span in a way that neither Voice of Saturn nor Dog Magic could’ve possibly been. That’s not to say anything against either of those LPs, which I wouldn’t do, just that the effort Zoroaster put into what they did came to fruition in these tracks, and as we moved into the current decade, they seemed poised to be among the forerunners of adventurous, forward thinking US doom. New label, more expansive sound, touring as much as ever — there were few safer bets to make.
Accordingly, that’s not at all how it went. These years later, I’m somewhat amazed that in the array of reunions happening, nobody has kicked around Zoroaster‘s name as one due for a resurgence. Maybe it’s too soon — the last touring I heard of from them was with Church of Misery in 2013; by then, Anderson was out of the band and replaced by Mike Morris — but their laser lightshow was always welcome every time I was able to catch it and I can’t imagine their presentation wouldn’t find favor amid the new generation of heavy aficionados that has surfaced in increasing numbers since the band’s departure. We may or may not get there eventually — you won’t find me daring to predict, having sort of learned my lesson in that regard — but the point is that both live and in the studio, Zoroaster were a special group and delivered something that no one else did in quite the same way. I have to wonder what planes of existence they might’ve moved to had they kept going after Matador, where all this lysergic weight would’ve carried them. As it stands, one can find Anderson in Order of the Owl, who released their We are Here to Collect Our Crown EP earlier this year following up on 2012’s In the Noon of the After Day full-length debut, while Fiore rounds out the four-piece incarnation of Royal Thunder, who will reportedly have a new record out in 2017. Last I heard, Scanlan, who was an absolute difference-maker especially on stage, wasn’t currently with a band.
Whether Zoroaster ever make a return is something the years will tell, but in revisiting Matador so long after the fact, it’s even more obvious to me how much they had to offer. If you were into it at the time or if it’s new to you now, I hope you enjoy.
It was a quiet week overall, though it hardly started that way on Monday driving back from holiday celebrations with family in New Jersey. Granted we stopped for dinner, but seven-plus hours of a four-hour trip felt perhaps needlessly brutal. Fortunately, I had plenty of time to recover with the week off from work. And that’s exactly what I did. Errands here and there, and it turned out to be the perfect span for the Quarterly Review — which wraps on Monday — since otherwise it was pretty quiet, but in the main it was delicious food prepared not at all in a post-workday panic, hanging out with The Patient Mrs. playing Final Fantasy XV, making our way through the entirety of the Die Hard film franchise, etc.
Call it a reminder of how much I prefer existence when I can wake up and write every day on my own terms; of what I want my life to be. I need weeks like this.
Next week, a return to somewhat frenetic normalcy. Here’s what I’ve got planned so far, subject to change as always:
SUN: Year-End Poll results.
MON: Quarterly Review Day 6 and a new video from The Progerians.
TUE: Sgt. Sunshine review and Drone Hunter video.
WED: Review/premiere from Blood Mist, announcement from Hair of the Dog.
THU: Much-delayed Surya Kris Peters review, video premiere from Drive by Wire.
FRI: Sergio Ch. review slated as of now, but that might shift.
Lots of good stuff to come as we get into 2017. I’ve got my list of most anticipated releases coming together — it’s over 100 strong at this point. I want a week or two to solidify things further and give myself a break from writing lists generally, but it’ll be posted before the end of January.
In the meantime, as noted above, the motherload of lists — the results of the Year-End Poll — goes up this weekend, so stay tuned for that. As of this post, it’s still a really close race as it has been all month, and we’ve totally blown away last year’s number of contributors by nearly 200, so I’m very, very pleased with how it’s all turning out. Of course, everyone’s list will be included as always. It will be massive and probably crash the site, but whatever. Poll-time comes but once a year.
I say this every week, but if you’re the type to celebrate New Year’s, it’s especially true: Please be safe and have a great time. No DUIs, no fireworks blowing off hands, none of that shit. Not saying you can’t enjoy yourself, just saying no casualties. The universe needs all the rockers it can get.
Alright, that’s it for me. Can’t say I’ll mourn 2016’s passing, as it was a rough one on any number of levels personal and otherwise, but let’s all look forward and hope for better times to come. Please know you have my best wishes.
And please check out the forum and radio stream.