Album Review: ZUUL — ‘ZUUL II’

ZUUL Vinyl Release Show w/ Leather Parachute, Giallows, RIBCO

Rock Island Brewing Company, Rock Island, Illinois — Saturday, Sept. 14 at 8:30 p.m.

Go to any ZUUL show, stand in the back then watch as the screaming aggression, pulsing rhythm section and melodic shift into doomed riffs enrapture the audience. It’s hard not to be swayed by their end-of-the-world, cathartic, danceable anthems.

Capturing a sound like that in the studio is difficult. Capturing that feeling while pushing into even more experimental realms is a true trick, one that 2018’s ZUUL II pulls off, following the punk-metal riffage of ZUUL’s self-titled album with spacier instrumentals and, at times, subdued prog-like meditations.

At just over 30 minutes, it’s a quick thump to the skull. Opening track “Suicide Tuesday” seems to continue the world’s-end hangover from the previous album. It’s a brutal rush of a song finished in just over two minutes. “Before the Woods Burn Down” changes expectations not once, but twice. It begins with the drums playing what could easily be the backbeat to a ’70s funk jam. Then the guitars drop in. The beat keeps pace as the twin guitars tug back and forth between melody and menace. That’s all before the song speeds up, slows down, then speeds up again.

“I Drive Now,” the third song, goes back and forth between anthem and counter-anthem, conjuring memories of Helmet in their more angry (and more relevant) moments. “Whole Step Back” spends half of its running time using sparse guitar work before reaching its brutal punchline (“You’re just dead fucking weight”). Instrumental “Out With the Old” sounds like a slightly off-kilter Sonic Youth song, closing the first side of the record.

ZUUL saves the most interesting song for last. “A Dog Never Dies Where It Sleeps” finds the band going full-on studio experimental. Taking up the entirety of the 13-minute second side, it goes from folky into acid-laced space rock. They bring in Linzi Holandes (Death Valley Welcome Center) to add haunting vocals that spiral from harmonious to scream, ending with singer/guitarist JL Bolinger offering a bittersweet dirge.

Released on vinyl this summer by Gentle Edward Records, ZUUL II sees the Iowa City band unafraid to experiment. Here’s hoping they continue to get weirder.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 270.