Eerie prog-rock extravaganza
Electronic and rock duo Zombi released their new EP Liquid Crystal this month, to the delight of prog-rock fans everywhere. Originally from Pittsburgh, the duo is composed of Steve Moore on bass/synth and A.E. Paterra on drums. The duo has been releasing since 2004 and consistently put out music every couple of years, though the group took a five-year hiatus in between the release of their 2015 album, Shape Shift, and their newest 2021 release, Liquid Crystal.
It is hard to say whether Liquid Crystal is an electronic or rock EP, but this is characteristic of Zombi’s distinct work, which has traditionally toed the line between rock and electronic music. Liquid Crystal is certainly more electronic-based than 2020, their last album, centered squarely in rock, that captured some of the intensity and darkness of last year. However, Liquid Crystal lacks a lot of the emphasis on the synth that characterizes Zombi’s earlier work, tipping it further toward the prog-rock camp. Zombi fans who appreciate this side of their compositions will love this album for its mixture of heavy drums, subtle synth melodies and the intense song builds.
Hoovering at around 31 minutes, with only five songs, Liquid Crystal is compact but lush. A nuanced sound system that artfully builds synth and drum sounds to form Zombi’s distinct sound. Liquid Crystal is an EP with a Halloweeny-horror-like aspect that characterizes a lot of Zombi’s work.
The EP begins with “Mangler” in a spooky jingle that conjures images of Jack-O Lanterns and Scooby-Doo, though the song gradually builds into a melancholy rock song that evokes a darker side of Halloween. “Chant,” much like “Mangler,” blends Moore’s harmonic synths with a slower beat from Paterra, evoking anticipation with its slow acceleration towards a similar intense rock conclusion. The first two songs are remarkably alike, and even “Turning Points,” at a whopping 11 minutes and 17 seconds, adheres to this format, though the length of the song allows for a more gradual and dramatic sound evolution.
Two songs break the mold on Liquid Crystal. “Black Forest” is a standout, with a complicated and upbeat melody that evokes a likeness to Zombi’s 2015 Shape Shift album. The title track, “Liquid Crystal,” like “Chant,” “Mangler” and “Turning Points,” begins with a steady synth tune from Moore that then pairs with Patterra’s drums to descend into a plodding rock/synth sound, but unlike the other songs, carries more intensity in the last half of the song.
The similarity between these songs on the album, partly due to the low-key role of the synth, makes for a somewhat monotonous listening experience that is different from Zombi’s previous albums. Even in comparison to some of their calmer, slower work like The Zombi Anthology, Liquid Crystal feels safer and lackluster, in relation to intense and layered albums like the 2006 Surface to Air, their debut album Cosmos or even their more recent works like 2020 and Shape Shift, which features more creative synth melodies. Though this release is artfully composed, it does not match the excitement, style or originality of Zombi’s previous albums.