Listening to the new disc by Zonal, the duo of Kevin Martin and Justin Broadrick, took me back to 1994/5, a period where these two were giving us some great records in the form of Martin’s Ice and Techno Animal and Broadrick’s Scorn incarnations. Martin was then also curating Virgin’s long-deleted ‘Ambient’ series, with such compilations as the influential Isolationism and Macro-Dub Infection Volume 1, both of which shared the same artwork as that which graced the projects mentioned earlier, thus giving this ‘scene’, such as it was and still is, a sense of commonality and shared vision. The music that these, and other bands, such as God, Godflesh and Main, produced was a mix of experimental dub, ambient drone, metal, rock and electronica, which some critics sought to collect under the umbrella term of Simon Reynolds’s ‘post rock’, but I’ve always thought that these groups, with their distorto-dub, bass-heavy, oppressive and disorientating atmospheres, always sat better under the ‘trip hop’ label, the then-contemporary sound of, most famously, Bristol’s Massive Attack/Tricky and Portishead. Whatever one calls it, it made a welcome change to all the Brit Pop hype of the time.
The Macro-Dub notes quoted Ian Penman assertion that “People get warped by dub and reggae, and they never recover”. Certainly, John Lydon and Public Image Ltd. never did, and the influence of Metal Box still looms large over these recordings, and over Zonal’s Wrecked, whose title is somewhat of a spoiler, concerning its contents The first six tracks feature Philadelphia singer and poet, Moor Mother, and I love their sheer heaviosity, to put it crudely - those familiar with Martin’s recordings as Ice, God, Techno Animal, The Bug and King Midas Sound, and Broadrick’s with Godflesh and Scorn will know exactly what to expect. It’s music for the solar plexus, and can leave you metaphorically winded.
The one problem for me, however is in the lyrics, which mainly consist of paranoid drawls/rants about the military/industrial complex (as it used to be known), or, more simply, ‘The Man’. I am very much reminded of the late-nineties Primal Scream, whose Vanishing Point, Exterminator! and Evil Heat all displayed Bobby Gillespie’s inner world of sixties counter cultural conspiracy theories, with Burroughs-ian and Ballard-ian tropes in full effect. Now, I love these three records, with their input from such production wizards as Kevin Shields, but the adolescent words did drag the whole project down a notch for me.
The lyrics to Wrecked’s ‘In A Cage’, ‘System Error’ and ‘Medulla’ (very telling titles!) are particularly asinine - “the system is rotten…we are forgotten” and “they want me dead, motherfuckers…like I got a bounty on my head”. These sound ridiculous coming from men in their fifties, to be frank, with their persecutory,‘outlaw’ fantasies and fixations (they even give mention of‘Babylon’, ffs, rocketing me back to the days of The Clash, The Slits and The Pop Group, and not in a good way). The record drastically improves once they have got all this out of their systems, and the rest of the album is mostly instrumental, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even hearing echoes of ‘electric Miles’, a sound which remains a touchstone for many of these experimental rock groups; “heavy, expressive and uncompromising” as November’s Wire would have it.