Caleb Schofield seems like an industrious man. He has lent his quaking bass-lines and gnarled bellow to a variety of luminous metal acts, such as Cave-In and Old Man Gloom. Those of us that were peeved about Schofield’s main venture Cave-In going into hibernation in 2006 would definitely have perked up when Schofield began borrowing a few things from the oft-slumbering Old Man Gloom: a drummer, Santos Montano, and a name, Zozobra. (Zozobra is the name of the effigy known also as Old Man Gloom that is burned every autumn during Fiestas de Santa Fe in New Mexico). The first release under the Zozobra moniker, Harmonic Tremors, although largely ignored by the average Metal maven, would have temporarily sated us Cave-In fans desperate for some new materiel.
Bird of Prey, much like Harmonic Tremors, sees Zozobra invoke the Old Man Gloom spirit quite prominently. Apart from the doomy Gloom aesthetic and the melodic leanings of Cave-In, what is most striking on Bird of Prey is Schofield’s assiduity. From the basslines that clatter like freight trains to the guitar riffs that thud and crunch like concrete blocks dropped from skyscrapers, it is Schofield that builds much of this record. Aaron Harris, of Isis fame, assists, lending his workmanlike drumming and taking only a couple of breathers in this intense 30-minute album. The opener “Emanate” immediately unleashes the heavy machinery, promptly settling into a precise groove which Schofield rides to elicit his guttural directives. The mechanical pounding continues with assembly-line consistency and Schofield’s vocals sound like the pissed-off foreman throughout the bulk of this album.
The Tool-esque “In Jet Streams”, the subterranean tremor-and-eruption of “Heavy with Shadows” (sounding like Oceanic-era Isis), and the furious rip-tide “Treacherous” exemplify Zozobra’s allegiance to the eloquent oppression of its progenitors. There are a couple of forays into less forceful territory. “Heartless Enemy”‘s funereal pace, mournful guitar motif and echoing percussion pave the way for coarse admonitions that are counterbalanced by distant melodic singing. This formula is repeated without adding much nuance or flavour, eventually rendering the promising premise somewhat impotent. “Big Needles” is another quieter sequence that is simply a dull tapestry of noir-ish ambiance and repetitive electronics that is ultimately soporific and disposable.
As we reach the ebb of this lull, the next track “Sharks That Circle” brings some much needed malice to the proceedings. Built on a muscular and totally headbangable riff, it hammers through three minutes of catharsis without sounding monotonous, especially due to the excellent transition and Eastern-influenced solo at the end. While Bird of Prey is a professional and entirely serviceable metal record, it is ultimately the sense of well-rehearsed diligence that proves to be its downfall. Schofield and Harris are both undoubtedly proficient musicians. However, they often sound deliberate and predictable, with the precision of the riffs and the stoutness of the drums coming across somewhat processed and emotionless.
There is much to be appreciated in hard work. After all, the most magnificent of creations are built on foundations of perseverance and persistence. What separates the triumphant citadel from the mundane severity of the flawlessly designed edifice is the joy that reveals itself in the minutiae of its craftsmanship. If Zozobra revelled a little more in its apparent dexterity, Bird of Prey may have relaxed and spread its wings a lot wider.
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