Matador: Zoroaster Recraft Doom in Their Own Image

It has been an evident conscious decision by the band Zoroaster that each of their albums should sound different from the one before it. They are, in terms often heard, “trying something different” each time. Certainly 2009’s Voice of Saturn showed marked growth from 2007’s Dog Magic, and their third and latest full-length, Matador, follows the same ethic, pushing the Atlanta trio’s psychedelic doom in yet another surprisingly complex direction.

Matador is Zoroaster’s first album for E1 Music (High on Fire, In Flames, Hatebreed), the first album they aren’t releasing through their own Terminal Doom Records, but I don’t think that accounts for any of the sonic changes the band has undergone. One might expect that, having moved from an entirely independent method of operation to a label of reach as considerable as E1’s, Zoroaster would come across, either consciously or unconsciously, as more commercial, but that’s not – repeat, not – what’s happening on Matador. Rather, it seems guitarist/vocalist Will Fiore, bassist/vocalist Brent Anderson and drummer Dan Scanlan have gone even further out than ever before, incorporating a mutated brand of desert rock riffing into their arsenal while at the same time meshing it with increased use of highly-reverbed and delayed clean vocals that makes a song like opener “D.N.R.” sound spacious even more than what is commonly thought of in doom as heavy. The feel is that Zoroaster have moved beyond the confines of genre, and with the help of producer Sanford Parker, are working on their own progressive definition thereof.

There are also a lot more songs on Matador than in the past. With their third outing, Zoroaster gives us nine full-tracks, where Dog Magic had six and Voice of Saturn had five if you discount the intro and outro (which, in the case of the latter, also takes 14 minutes of runtime off the album and may not be an entirely fair move). Of course, the track lengths here are shorter, with cuts like the heavily rhythmic “Ancient Ones,” “Trident,” “Black Hole” and “Odyssey II” all under four minutes and only “Old World” and closer “Matador” over seven, but if bursts of rocking energy like “Trident,” with Fiore’s righteous and classically-styled soloing, are going to be the tradeoff, I’ll take it, as Zoroaster prove more than capable of handling the style. “Trident” is a surprisingly catchy highlight, tighter with more aggressive vocals, than “Odyssey” before it, but it really is the soloing that sets the song apart. It’s yet another move Zoroaster have made to distinguish Matador from its predecessors.

So naturally, on the next track, which is “Firewater,” they go in the complete opposite direction. The song is 4:14 of noise, feedback, soloing, effects and a Clutch-style bass and drum groove underneath, basically Scanlan and Anderson giving Fiore a little freak-out time. Gone is the structure, the memorable hook, the fleetness of finger (well, I guess that’s still there, but coming from another dimension). Take that, expectation.

“Old World” fits vaguely into line with the spacier material, “D.N.R.” and “Odyssey,” but is better executed, with a ride cymbal/riff interplay reminiscent of Sleep and maybe Om that’s only further accented by the droning clean vocals. I know in all probability they’re going to do something completely different next time around, but I could put up with two or three albums of this kind of thing, and I doubt if I’d be the only one. “Black Hole” shows off why Scanlan is considered one of the top drummers in doom and features yet another turn in the vocals back to the aggressive, though they reside well over a substantially driving riff which the bass also follows for the most part. Here the spaciousness and the crunch blend as Fiore’s solo still has some of that echo effect going, but it doesn’t feel out of place in the context of the song or Matador as a whole. Honestly, by this point in the album they could do just about anything and it would work.

Delayed guitars and a bass-thick moodiness mark out the three instrumental minutes of “Odyssey II” as basically a breather and setup for the closing title track – it wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear vocals over this sort of thing next time around as the band gets even more confident in their approach – but it works as it is and makes “Matador,” which comes on with a heavy drum plod, feel separate from all the material before it. Now we’re standing at the temple door, now we’re walking in – that sort of thing. Zoroaster have worked an eerie drama into the progression of Matador that culminates in the final track, even if it is nearly a full three minutes before the song picks up. After six minutes of solid ambience, however, and even as blasted with effects as the sounds are, they’re all the heavier. “Matador,” finally, is a wash. It runs over you, and somehow, out of all of it, Anderson, Fiore, Scanlan and Parker pull a perceptible nod-worthy groove that the band rides to completion to top off the album with a bit of feedback and fading echo. All of a sudden, you feel as far gone as the song you just heard.

There will be plenty of hyperbole around Matador from the mainstream metal press (who has been waiting for Zoroaster to launch since before Dog Magic, and rightly so), so I will do my best to sit out of that party. Realistically, if Zoroaster set out to make a sonic mindfuck of a record, then they’ve met that goal and then some. In a way, it best captures the wall-bouncing sound of seeing them live, and in a way it moves in the complete opposite direction of studio-centric experimentation. Matador, true to its name, taunts you left just as it moves right, so that you seem always to be trying to keep up with its next turn and charge headlong into the next surprise – only instead of nothing on the other side of the cape, there’s an oversized anvil à la Looney Tunes. As for it being “their best album,” who gives a shit? In some ways it is, yeah, but it’s so unlike anything they’ve done that the comparison isn’t justified. They’re not trying to make the same albums they were before, so putting Matador against Dog Magic or even Voice of Saturn doesn’t make sense. Matador is its own entity, and it’s likely to be one of the best records 2010 will have produced; an original work of substantial achievement that any doom fan who thought there was nowhere else to take the sound should hear and be surprised by. Highly recommended.

Zoroaster on MySpace

E1 Music

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4 Responses to “Matador: Zoroaster Recraft Doom in Their Own Image”

  1. Mike says:

    Dude, you heard this!?!?!

    I’m green with envy.

    I don’t think I’ve had any expectations for what the album would sound like, only hoping it would have more songs and kick some serious ass. Sounds like they’ve accomplished that so I am even more eager to hear it having read your review.

    That’s the point, right?

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