ZONAL feat. Moor Mother


With Moor Mother on guest vocals, Kevin Martin and Justin K Broadrick have made an album of joyously feel-bad music, finds Bob Cluness

When observing the tendency towards musical collaboration there are few partnerships where you can clearly state they just seem to be made for each other. In the case of Kevin “The Bug” Martin and Justin “JK Flesh” Broadrick, this almost certainly rings true. With a personal and professional history that has lasted thirty-odd years in various guises as God, Ice, White Viper, The Sidewinder, and The Curse of The Golden Vampire, it was their partnership as the duo Techno Animal where their creative energies really took off.

Although it’s easy in 2019 to plot the various intersecting pathways between dub, hip-hop, noise, industrial, and bass in contemporary music, Techno Animal were already plotting out those points with 1998’s Techno Animal Versus Reality and 2001’s Brotherhood of the Bomb, albums of hip-hop as abstract noir that seemed to fall through the cracks. Too noisy for the hip-hop scene, yet too hip-hop for the noise scene.

Today Techno Animal is no more, but from its ashes we now have ZONAL. Wrecked, their first full album, seeks to carry on where Techno Animal left off. And it would be an understatement to say that Wrecked is indeed a full-on head wrecker, helped in part by Martin and Broadrick linking up with polymath artist and activist Camae Ayewa aka Moor Mother, whose fearless approach and candid vocal delivery is the perfect foil for ZONAL’s hopekrusher productions.

In recent interviews Broadrick has stated that the purpose of ZONAL was to explore “the deeper, more out-there aspects of T/A, but still fuelled by beats and bass,” to achieve a what he calls a sonic and “literal representation” of full-blown zoned out immersion. With ZONAL’s previous output, a limited edition 2001 CD-R titled The Quatermass Project Volume 1, Martin and Broadrick took the spatial elements of dub, bass and hip-hip to their logical conclusion, their skeletal beats and ghostly apparitions haunting a voided centre. But in Wrecked, they have veered past the opposite direction, creating a leviathan of desolate mood music that is even more compressed and monolithic, barely able contain the various elements of pressurised noise and rumbles cosmic horror.

That voided centre now contains an overwhelming abyss that threatens to rip your brain apart if you get too close. Tracks like ‘Wrecked’, ‘S.O.S’ and ‘Black Hole Orbit Zone’ utterly seethe with blackened occult potentialities as the choking buzz and static mix with the boiling low-end bass throbs to bring about an unaccountable form of eschaton through music. Towards the end of Wrecked the album transcends misanthropic humanism as ‘Alien Within’ and ‘Stargazer’ see the flailing barrage of grinding noise and sludgy rhythms give way to a bombed-out, floating moonscape that entices you to wrap its noxious thrums, drones and vibrations around yourself like a cloak of bleakness stripped of vitality. Breezy, uplifting tunes these are not.

But it is when ZONAL collaborate with Moor Mother in the album’s first half that Wrecked becomes an exemplary display of pessimism. With Moor Mother’s dark poetics and textural worlds of resignation, what you hear is not so much a “negative” that is dour and despondent. Instead the dub dread and oppressive rage of Martin and Broadrick’s productions are a springboard for Moor Mother’s seething sci-fi afro-pessimism, a big NO that bleeds all over the album.

It’s a pessimism borne of the continuing apocalyptic trauma of blackness, running from slavery, to state-sanctioned murder and incarceration. When she points out in ‘Medulla’ that she has “a bounty on her head / they want me dead mother fuckers,” you do not disagree with her. Moor Mother’s lyrics are instinctive, ragged, displaying an anti-flow that suffers no fools and gives no easy rides to the listener, such as ‘In a Cage’ where she declares “Despite all my rage / We still in a daze …. you brought the violence in here / You brought the silence in here / you helped make god disappear and left us with blood in the air”. Meanwhile in ‘Catalyst’, Moor Mother turns and folds in her world to lay out the double oppressiveness of being both back and a woman as her voice drifts along, emitting a wavering trance: “Since the beginning woman was second… condemned to the kitchen …Even with the rights they said you was lacking / If you was black you was a fraction.” All the while Moor Mother’s voice, while full of righteous anger, veers from a swinging low end bellow to that of a weary blues dejection. You sense that the themes of violence, racism and anti-blackness she speaks about are ones she will be compelled to repeat again and again.

With Wrecked, ZONAL and Moor Mother have made a joyously feel bad album whose grinding negativity and tidal heaviness provides a necessary form of catharsis, that sloughs or burns off the stench of ego and know-betterisms. It demands a form of humility from the listener both of their place in the world, and of the experience and position of others. It is a brutalist sonic and vocal riposte to the McMindfullness of self-enforced positivity and slavish devotion to disavowing the simple notion that things are not ok. And I for one am grateful for that.

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