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Friday, August 11, 2017

Review: Zeroscape - Finish Dem


Let’s start this review with a little challenge: Try to imagine yourself what a reggae singer doing a rap to the rhythm of a heavy guitar riff would sound like. Failed? No worries, you’re most likely not alone. Succeeded? Congratulations, you have a pretty good idea of what Zeroscape stands for, although in all honesty the above challenge in no way covers the true value of their work, being described a hell of a lot more simplified than it actually is. This Toronto, Canada based quartet has created an entirely new genre called ragga-metal by mixing reggae, rap and metal since their founding back in 2001, following the belief that every and all type(s) of music can be molten together. I’m the first to admit reading about this unlikely mix caused a few raised eyebrows, but of course I was more than willing to give Binski (vocals), JJ Tartaglia (drums), Speshalizt (guitar) and Matt Hudson (bass) a fair chance to convince me this was and is a good idea. The best way to do that is giving their latest release, a full-length call ‘Finish dem’, a good handful of spins.

The intro is exactly that, with a boxing speaker boasting about the band’s show performance WBA-title-fight-style. It flows into a slightly altered, yet still all too familiar riff made famous by the known-by-all Rocky Balboa movies and performing band Survivor. A brilliant move when you think about it: It conjures a smile of recognition and pleasure on your face while grabbing your attention at the same time. I don’t think there’s a single living soul out there that has not ever heard this piece of music. Anyway, if the song build around the illustrious riff, ‘The Funeral’, could be seen as Zeroscape’s audible business card they might be on to something with their peculiar mix of styles. They immediately put their money where their mouth is, somehow mixing rap, reggae and metal into a coherent, uplifting song. A concept they re-invent with a twist throughout the album, which, I must admit, does not always turn out as good as in ‘The Funeral’.

In my opinion there’s two factors contributing to this. The first being the overkill of styles and genres they use within their songs. There’s various amounts of reggae, rap, ska and whatnot combined with almost every metal genre thinkable to be found making the overall feel somewhat restless and jittery at times. Despite these flaws, none of which are a matter of life and death and which can be solved quite easily, this still is an interesting release. Every single song definitely has potential and to be honest the result of this unlikely marriage of styles more than exceeded my expectations. They got it right most of the time, however, I think the overall result can be improved when they hold back on the (metal-)genre-hopping a little and manage to tweak the style-mixing some more. It sometimes feels as if they’re not in sync at all times. The guys can take on metal, reggae, rap, ska and whatever style you can think of with relative ease and Binski has the multifunctional throat to support them doing so. They’re not even afraid to spice up epic songs, proving this by ending the album with the Bob Marley cover ‘Get Up, Stand Up’.

The other, probably most influential factor is the production that sadly is not helping here either. The sound is a bit thin here and there, resulting in the focus being drawn to the higher tones in those parts, leaving bass and drum lines in the shades. Also at times it feels as if they maxed out their equipment, like in ‘Gold Digger’ where the combination of riffs and high speed drums sounds kind of muffled, out of detail, making it hard to identify the separate instruments’ rhythm lines and keep track of the rhythm itself. The same happens in ‘In Lust’. A shame really, I’m curious to find out how it would sound without these production issues.

So to summarize the keyword for this release is ambivalence: both impressive and, at times, drowning in its diversity. There is no doubt Zeroscape has good musicians, a ditto vocalist and some pretty good ideas composition- and style-wise, but the over-diversity of styles combined with the somewhat poor production pretty much renders that underexposed. The fusion of seemingly incompatible styles turns out to be a surprisingly good idea, but it takes very precise tweaking both composition- and production-wise to get it just right and that’s where the guys have some work to do. If they can solve the production issues, tweak the abundant use of styles a bit and tune the mix some more, this really is a great concept with lots of potential. All this being said, I still enjoyed this release as it is, it has plenty of surprises to discover and for the most part the songs are solid, making it easier to overlook its flaws. Plus, they get bonus points for having the guts to mix styles that are in essence so far apart. No small feat. I suggest you judge for yourself and give these guys an honest chance.

Written by Henric van Essen

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