Zillah – Serpentine Halo (2015)

Author: Bloodshot Grub

Artist: Zillah

Album: Serpentine Halo

Label: Sea of Corruption Records

This slab of technical death metal comes to us courtesy of Edinburgh’s Zillah. They’ve been around since 2000 but prior to this have only released two full-length albums and four EPs, none of which have garnered any significant attention or acclaim. This one, however, has crossed my radar several times, prompting curiosity about what exactly it is that they’re up to. The answer is, nothing special, but still plenty enjoyable.

Zillah does technical death metal with emphasis on the death metal. Not that their chops aren’t well in order, but they’re not the focal point. Nor are the angular melodies that are typical of the genre’s leaders; they’re certainly present, but are employed more as framing for the heavy, mid-paced riffs. Stylistically, the riffing approach falls somewhere between Suffocation and the disjointed, angular style of Ulcerate and Gorguts, and the riffs are certainly quite good. Their songwriting is especially skillful, with cohesive songs that follow clear and logical progressions. There’s a wide variety of ideas to enjoy as well: Opener “Therefore I Am” is a mostly straightforward death metal piece with some almost Voivod-esque angularity in the riffs. “Made of Flesh and Bone” draws out the hardcore side of their Suffocation influence. “Man Son of Swine” has a selection of reserved, progressive guitar riffs that are contrasted by high-intensity blast beats and double bass grooves that build the song up towards chaos before it pulls back into a quieter and more atmospheric section. “One Thousand Stones Thrown” opens with several melancholy melodies orbiting around each other, pushed about like bodies in a mosh pit by cascading drum fills, as vocal samples play in the background. The mixture of different textures and levels of intensity keeps things fresh throughout.

Matt Holland’s drum performance is my favorite element of the music. He rarely settles into stock patterns, and both ties together the various ideas and drives them forward. He lends a sense of grandeur to the music that is almost orchestral, but he also understands when to lay back and just support the riffs with something straightforward. Oftentimes, as in the almost breakdown-style riffs in “Karras,” the drums seem like the lead instrument with the guitars supporting and occasionally stepping into the forefront with atmospheric melodies.

Zillah is more than competent in every aspect of their music. They are, at the same time, largely unremarkable. Nothing they do sets them above or apart from the world’s other myriad technical death metal acts; the music has “solid technical death metal” written all over it but nowhere does it say “Zillah.” Curiously, their previous album, Substitute for a Catastrophe from 2006, featured a few mathier riffs that call to mind Dillinger Escape Plan and Psyopus, and while Serpentine Halo is the stronger album in terms of songwriting and instrumental performance, it’s also less characteristic. That’s hardly the worst criticism that can be made of a band, and fans of tech death will likely find this an enjoyable and welcome addition to their library, if not quite a centerpiece. But with the genre being as crowded as it is, I’d prefer something with a little more identity.

7.5/10

  • Bloodshot Grub

Check ’em out here: http://zillah.bandcamp.com/

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