Review: zhOra – “Ethos, Pathos, Logos”… Posted: 18/09/2017 by Philip Morrissey
The whole sludge/hardcore scene is radically different to what it used to be. The aggression of the vocals, heavy rhythms, slow but occasionally fast tempos all remain as they were. More and more bands are incorporating disparate influences into the mix however. MASTODON, BARONESS, ISIS, NEUROSIS, THE OCEAN, and BORIS have all taken on influences such as post-rock, drone, classic rock and progressive rock. Meanwhile, bands frustrated by perceived restrictions in hardcore expanded their palate to include more melodic and technical elements, tapping into art-rock influences and delving into emotional spectrum’s. …AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD, REFUSED, McLUSKY, NOMEANSNO, BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME and THE JESUS LIZARD all helped to push this movement forward.
Naturally this burst of creativity has impacted on the metal underground also. Particularly here in Ireland. ILENKUS, SHARDBORNE, HORSE, PARTHOLÓN, NOMADIC RITUALS, and SLOMATICS among others have all demonstrated the wealth of creative talent that exists in this area. And another of these are proud Tipp natives, zhOra. Having formed in 2011, they impressed early on with their “Feet Nailed to the Ground” EP in 2012, before the release of their debut album in the guise of “Almaz” the following year. This was all on the back of a ferocious amount of gigging across the country and abroad supporting the likes of THE OCEAN, COILGUNS and DICTATED. A couple of storming appearances at The Siege in that spell also. Having secured a slot on the Headbangers Stage at Wacken in 2016, they secured a place at Bloodstock through the Irish leg of Metal to the Masses this year. This was all in preparation for the release of their second album. Vocalist Colm Bolger was quoted as saying “It’s a sprawling tale of a bloodthirsty despot, his feral minions, alien visitation and the illusion of choice. Set to the backdrop of frozen tundras, scorching deserts and panoptical imprisonment, Ethos, Pathos, Logos speaks to the hypocrite in all of us and shifts the gaze inward.” The level of expectation has been raised ahead of this.
Opener, ‘The Stone’ kicks off with spacey sounding effects along with some impressive snare and tom work. It is slow and cerebral rather than being flat out whilst being flourished with some keys work. Drum patterns begin to develop a cohesive style before the introduction of Gregorian style choral chanting. The various different voices are mixed well to create an effective blend. Events quieten down slightly upon the re-introduction of more piano work. Effects swish away in the background. It retains a certain amount of drama and gravitas to the vocals. It explodes into life with a dark and wretched blast of power as the guitars come to the fore. More effects make themselves known over a drums and guitar led section. The metallic influenced sludge rises above the murk. There is more of a hardcore feel to the vocals at this point. Trippy effects close out matters. ‘Riverchrist’ kicks off with a screaming guitar solo as pummeling drums and shouted vocals soon join the party. It is full of power and aggression. A few drum fills and guitar sweeps by Pancho O’ Meara are thrown in for good measure. There is some great playing amid the chaos. More than a hint of GOJIRA at times. It becomes more of the chuggy, groove laden variety before delving back in. Heavier and harsher vocals being employed in a full out attack. There is a switch of pace to a quiet melodic interval before erupting yet again. Some superb playing on show here. ‘Sin Eater’ sees clashing snares as part of another bludgeoning opening. It is full of guitar squeals and effects which bring to mind ‘The Key’ era NOCTURNUS. The drums from Tom Woodlock are in storming form in particular. There is a feel of MASTODON to the vocals. The guitar breaks out for a brief solo before jumping straight into a series of sweeps and dive-bombs. A wail is unleashed before gradually subsiding. Perhaps some of the fastest playing so far.
‘The Breach’ has more of an expansive and epic feel to the intro. The vocals seem to follow the same pattern as before. Occasional use of alternate vocals provide some variety. They seem to have effects applied to them also. The playing keeps up the thick chunky feel of before. Events slow down with precise drums and effects laden guitars. There is a serious amount of spite to the vocals. Ritchie McCormack’s bass finally gets its chance to rise its head above the parapet. It is complemented by solid drumming and weird, trippy effects. This rises and falls before the guitars shine again. There is almost a classical pomp to the playing at times. This mutates back into a heavy sludge number again. There is a slow and dirgey climax to the track. ‘Jettatura’ has somewhat of a sparce and atmospheric feel to it. Flashes of bass and percussion colour the landscape before they come together as the track becomes heavier. There is more of a post-rock influence coming through such as NEUROSIS and MASTODON. The vocals appear and are of the clean, choral variety. There is a great combination of the of the various voices. A driving guitar piece sees them become heavier until they are almost growled. A squealing effects-laden guitar breaks through almost sounding like an alarm. The tempo gets slower but still packing a hefty punch. Some great playing over the woozy chanted background vocals at the end. ‘Infernal Liturgy’ sees a slow, melancholic and moody entrance with a sense of PORCUPINE TREE or OPETH. It gains significant weight with the vocals which has a sense of Chuck Schuldiner. There is more of a concentration on atmosphere rather than speed. Short in length but plenty packed into it.
‘Turmoil’ has a firm post-metal feel to the opening with twisting guitar lines, changing time signatures and powerful drum patterns. The backing vocals provide a decent contrast when set against the harsher lead vocals. They are almost spoken word at times. The playing is going along pretty standard until a really interesting bass and drums led segment accompanying garbled sound effects that come across as weeping and wailing. Think ‘Worlds Apart’ by …TRAIL OF DEAD. When combined with the background vocals, drums and guitars, it makes for a head spinning effect. The main vocals return but the sound effects remain. Some delightful guitar playing raises everything up into a dizzying blend. The outro descends into almost flat out hardcore. ‘Rubicon; On the Styx’ sees the sound of creaking timber over water. A pier perhaps. The bass and drums combine yet again to great effect. Layered clean vocals appear as the pace increases. Some lovely fluid playing in this section. A soaring guitar solo particularly impresses. The tougher vocals show up again full of passion and anger. A mid-level interval slows things down before yet another gorgeous solo. This is a particular highlight. This flows, dips and rises along before vocals and a tempo increase. ‘Earth’d’ commences clean vocals with an echo effect perhaps being used. The mood is slow and careful with plucked acoustic guitars and deliberate and precise drumming. Definitely more of a low-key track. No loss of emotion despite the clean vocals. The guitars begin to supersede the playing in an instrumental segment before starting to gain significant weight. Some interesting use of time signatures.
‘Server, Seer, Soothsayer’ carries on in the same vein as the previous track. A devastating guitar solo leads into the harsher vocals. They appear more gnarly and wretched than before. A combination are employed which allows for a decent off-set. They are stretched almost to the point of breaking at stages. The playing is at its usual high standard with an emphasis more on a heavy chug and more chug which gets more technical as it develops. The vocal aggression gives way to an extended solo featuring distorted backing vocals. The groove elements return sandwiching an impressive guitar solo where the vocals get increasingly tougher. A slow, rich bass segment provides a refreshing interval. An audio piece, with distortion provides the backdrop. The playing is precise and elegant, gaining power towards the end. The longest track on the album, it does not outstay its welcome. Album closer, ‘Tabula Rosa’, sets forth with a grinding drums and guitars led opening with evidence of the groove influences appearing again. It picks up speed prior to the vocals in. The background effects still knocking around relent as the band goes into full power. It sees more work with the dual vocalists. A single growl proceeds a dynamic guitar solo backed up by sturdy drumming. The vocals return and sound increasingly unhinged and frenetic. Some elongated sections allow all of the main players to shine. The intro of cleaner vocals towards the end is accompanied by more melodic playing. No loss of passion however and the band finish on a stirring high.
It has to be said this offering comes across as a band determined to follow their own path. The dystopian, crusty, yet technical ambitions, is one that few Irish bands are covering. There certainly is aspects taken on from the likes of VOIVOD. It can be confusing and unsettling for some listeners but the depth and quality on display is worth the time. Some of the tracks stand out immediately, whilst others may need a few listens to dig beneath the surface. The production work is on the button and really allows for the playing to breathe properly, rather than being smothered. Perhaps the bass is a tad low in the mix at times, but when it’s brought to the fore, its strength is clear to hear. Personally, I believe that more of the clean vocals would work better but that is my opinion. The darker and harsher tones match well with the themes of past lives and cannibalism. The artwork is a stunning piece from the vision of Jake Kobrin.
The question remains of whether they can replicate these myriad of sounds to the live platform. What can be achieved in the studio, can be trickier to pull off on stage. This question will be answered in the next few weeks as the band will playing a number of dates across the country in line with the launch of this album. zhOra have already played at the inaugural Urban Assault festival in Cork, along with other dates down here. And plans are set for more foreign tour dates for next year. As well as an upcoming slew of gigs around Ireland to launch the album (see below). The future looks extremely bright for them.