REZN is a four-piece from Chicago, Illinois and their recent record Chaotic Divine deserves every bit of praise that has been heaped onto it thus far. The album is both familiar yet unique and truly pushes the genre limitations of doom in a way I have not heard before.
When I make a statement like that I assume many will ask what I mean. Well, let me explain. Doom as a genre, although diverse in its own way within the genre of metal and across the spectrum of doom bands that exist, essentially has a few styles that are prominent. Don’t get me wrong, I have never had a problem with that and something I like about doom is you often know what to expect and put it on to achieve a certain atmosphere; however, for the most part, doom bands, whether they be stoner, sludge, or even more rock-based, stick quite rigidly to their genre as that is what people want.
Chaotic Divine is one of the most genre-progressive doom albums I have ever heard. It has it all: stoner doom drones, effect-drenched vocals, and pounding drum and guitar tones; however, this album does just a little more and introduces 70’s style psychedelic sounds as well as a plethora of unusual instruments, most notable being a saxophone in some songs. It is a surprising addition for doom yet perfectly composed and arranged in a way that does not juxtapose with the rest of the music. Although I love a good sax solo and enjoy the works of John Coltrane, among others, I often find the sax to be used in a cheesy way when superimposed into other genres (cheesy doesn’t mean bad by the way). However, in REZN’s new release, the addition of saxophone is no gimmick and integrates beautifully into the mix. Although this isn’t the first time for the band to add saxophone to their compositions, I am specifically enamoured with its use on this record.
The versatility of the album can be seen through reading the album credits alone. In this album, we not only hear the standard guitar, bass, drums, vocals, and aforementioned saxophone but we also hear oud, bağlama, and sitar (traditional stringed instruments), rainstick, flute, synthesizers, percussion, and perplexingly moisturiser… I thought maybe there was an instrument I had not heard of before but after typing in “musical moisturiser” into Google I am suitably disappointed.
As always with REZN the vocals are a marvel to behold as they are powerful yet at the same time mellifluous. The guitar tones are meaty and warm; not too aggressive, but sturdy. In fact, all the tonal quality of the instruments on this record are top-notch and welcoming while still managing to punch hard. In typical doom fashion, there is not too much flashy-ness to the performance. A good solo or a drum fill here or there, but as is par for the course in the genre, the music is cyclical and meditative while the playing is extremely tight and on point.
The album’s opener “Emerging”, although a great track, is nothing too new, however enjoyable. It’s in the next two tracks that the album really shows its colours. Track two “Waves of Sand” sticks true to its name and the intro conjures up images of a desert at night, calm yet mysterious. The harmonic minor quality of the track adds to, or perhaps even creates, that quality, although the manner in which the drums and bass are played also add to this feel. We hear the sax introduced very early and it sings a sultry song reminiscent of melody an old-timey snake charmer would play (the stereotypical one of course). A strong sense of psychedelic rock is also present in this song and altogether set the stage for a hypnotic piece of music. Toward the middle of the song, around the four-minute mark, the sax plays sustained yet slightly urgent notes building into a cacophony of rhythmically dense virtuosic lines that leads into a compelling lead guitar melody. Probably just because it’s fresh in my mind but something about the track’s mood makes me think of the new Amnesia: Rebirth game (set for the most part in an Algerian desert). The combination of the desert aesthetic mixed with a slight sense of dread is the best way I can explain it.
“Garden Green” opens with a classic doom drum intro. Psychedelic vibes abound, as delayed guitar bounces around the speakers with the bass playing what sounds to me like dub. The reggae/dub quality of this song is another great variation from the norm (at least when it comes to most doom) and reminds me a lot of an act called Salmonella Dub but with a REZN twist. The track is pretty repetitive but reflective and trance-like. Also, the sax solo heard towards the end vibes hard. This reggae/dub/psych feel is utilised multiple times over the course of the album and I am a big fan of it.
This is followed by “The Door Opens” and returns to a darker and heavier quality more reminiscent of the classic REZN doom sound and is another pensive yet slightly creepier track. Although the song starts off heavy, before long it returns to the psychedelic, layered with tremolo and sonar synths. For the most part, this album has more chilled-out parts than heavier ones, but as many may have read me say before, this makes the heavier parts all the more effective. The vocals in this track are very different too, gruff and almost shouted, and they do a great job of bringing versatility to the vocal delivery. The track closes with massive sustained chords that feel like they are crushing your soul into a fine powder. What an ending.
A lot of what I have mentioned is something we continue to hear over the course of the album so I will avoid redundancy, but I do want to mention my favourite part of the album which has to be the sax melody in “Optic Echo”. This song ripples like a cosmic echo, stretches across the vastness of time and space, and sucks you into an underwater black hole. This whole song is a masterpiece but that sax melody just hits all the right notes (is that a pun?). I can’t get enough of this one.
This album is a must-listen and is probably the best doom metal album I have heard this year. It is unique and more importantly, it is poignant, particularly if you start reading the trippy existential lyrics. Go support REZN so that they can keep doing what they are doing because what they are doing is worthy of it.
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