There’s a lot of fun to be had when modern rock bands decide to create fake musical ethnography, to re-make and re-model ancient and sacred music. Sweden’s Goat are perhaps the most famous example, self-mythologizing merry pranksters, swirling around in their masks and partying like it’s BC 99. There is also the perhaps more studious approach of bands like Master Musicians of Bukkake, who seem to want to go deep, conjuring fantastical, ritualistic music of considerable drama.
New Brunswick duo Zaum are closer to the latter on their new release “Oracles”, a rich and at times pompous record that takes it’s self-appointed ‘Middle Eastern Mantra Doom’ tag very seriously.
First of the four epic tracks is ‘The Zealot’, beginning with sombre, heavily treated strings moving into ominous chords and drones. Chanted vocals complete the faux musical archaeology, summoning up the fictional desert land which Zaum inhabit. It has the pace of classic early stoner rock but with an added depth of otherworldliness. This is not often music as physical release but of introverted journey. ‘The Zealot’ does build to a climax of sorts, the playing more pacy before returning to those solemn opening chords and then rising , somewhat triumphant, towards surging chants before some final authoritative drumming stops its reveries.
The heady swell of throat singing, ululations and what sounds like sitars, like a call to prayer through a dream, on ‘The Red Sea’ are impressively rendered. Sounding like obscure chill-out music, it’s comforting until more ominous guitar lines emerge through a haze of pedals. The menacing spoken word passage is like a duet by Carl McCoy and Dave Brock, but it drags on in grisly fashion, the mood of exoticism replaced by mild tedium. The song does get into a decent head-nodding groove with crunching drums and a simple repetitive chant; in fact, it’s punishingly downbeat and ends in almost Celtic Frost-like eerie malevolence.
‘Peasant of Parthia’ has ambient keys jumping into big jangling riffs and thudding percussion, from which throat singing and then more traditional trippy stoner vocals take over. Whilst less outré and odd it is more powerful and engaging without entirely throwing the baby out with the asses milk. It’s vaguely trance-like thanks to that throat singing under-pinning the tune. It is the shortest and sweetest of the bunch at under 9 minutes!
The template set down with Middle Eastern melodies (played on heavily treated guitars and sitars) giving way to doomy, lurching beats and menacing spoken words vocals returns on ‘Omen’ which, like on ‘The Red Sea’, don’t really convince – a tad pretentious in an ’80s goth type of way. The rather effective throat singing is again punctured by more traditionally rock-ist vocal interventions which, for me, mar the mood.
This an acquired taste and not wholly successful, but I admire their spirit of adventure and at times this is a refreshingly odd doom metal experiment.