Proggy Bottom Boys : Zombi’s ‘Surface To Air’

I can’t remember when I first discovered Zombi. I think it was back in 2013. Back when things were simpler and the imminent destruction of existence as we know wasn’t just one North Korean missile launch or Donald Trump tweet away. This was really ground zero for me as far as my deep fall into the synth well. Somehow or another I happened upon their 2011 album Escape Velocity and never looked back(maybe it was the naked chick running on the cover.) That album introduced me to the one-two punch of Steve Moore and AJ Paterra. Moore is this maestro on the synth and bass, while Paterra could easily sit in for the now retired Neil Peart and give new life to Rush. While these guys have been given the label of “synthwave”, I’d have to completely disagree with that assessment. These guys are prog as f*ck. Space rock on the next level. Just listen to those drum fills and bass lines. Listen to those synths oscillating into some musical worm hole.

No disrespect to the synthwave crews, but Zombi are on another level musically.

Steve Moore and AJ Paterra write hard and lean musical epics. Listen to records like Shape Shift, Spirit Animal, or the aforementioned Escape Velocity. These two are pulling from bands like Rush just as much as they are Goblin. They’re also coming in from a horror/sci fi slant(they’re named after a Lucio Fulci classic after all…and they hail from Romero’s stomping grounds of Pittsburgh.) I recently picked up their 2006 album Surface To Air and I have to say it’s been eating up some serious platter time. It has all the things Zombi are known for: killer drums, aggressive bass lines, and plenty of mind-melting synths. You know, something for everyone.

It opens with the excellent “Challenger Deep”. It almost sounds like the opening of Genesis’ “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” before an almost “Subdivisions” by Rush vibe crashes in. The interplay between Moore’s synth and bass parts and Paterra’s killer drums pushes the track into the stratosphere. I imagine some bizarre space scene happening with this track. Like intergalactic forces battling it out over an ever growing black hole.

“Digitalis” starts out with an arpeggiated synth line that is accompanied by some serious Edgar Froese sonics. Let the Tangerine Dream vibes wash over you. If you’re at all familiar with Pinkish Black(their Brown Rainbow is a hell of an album), then you’ll recognize some of the synth tones here(both bands are on Relapse Records as well.) Steve Moore’s synth work here works in some great melodrama adding to the epic vibe.

The nine minute “Legacy” lays on a heavy robo-groove. Besides the amazing synth work, Moore and Paterra are one hell of a rhythm section. They lock in hard and lay on some airtight rhythms. The synth is the icing on the cake.

End side one.

When I’m listening to Zombi I’m reminded of all the great Rush instrumentals there have been over the years. With this album in particular I get a real Signals vibe. How everything works together to give both the feeling of virtuosity and of a feeling of emotional heft. There’s probably not much room for improvisation as I’m sure there’s some very specific programming in the synthesizer department. But it never comes across as stiff with these guys. It feels like there’s room to move around, despite those robo-grooves.

“Surface To Air” sounds like what would happen if Goblin and Tangerine Dream took on Rush’ “YYZ”. That may sound like a pretty out there comparison, but trust me. It’ll feel kind of weird at first, but just go with it.

Closing track “Night Rhythms” is over 18 minutes of proggy synth machismo. This one definitely hints at Moore’s later film score work. There’s a looming doom that hangs over the first few minutes of the track. It brings to mind both Goblin’s work for Dawn of the Dead and Fabio Frizzi’s score for City of the Living Dead. Soon enough the track kicks into gear and we’re treated to some serious prog rock tendencies courtesy of Mr. Paterra’s incredible drumming.

Zombi are a band that seem to get better each time out. This being only their second record there was a lot to live up to. I think they’ve done a good job of keeping an upward flow going, but if this record was released two years ago instead of 11 it would still be pretty damn impressive. If you like heavy synth music, or progressive rock, or late 70s-early 80s Rush(right after the heavy concept albums and before the 80s washed-out synth pop) then I don’t see any reason as to why you’re not buying up Zombi records left and right.

Surface To Air is a great place to start.

14 thoughts on “Proggy Bottom Boys : Zombi’s ‘Surface To Air’

  1. I picked up Shape Shift a while back after you posted that here. Loved it. Still do, actually… not sure why I used the past tense there. But aye, I’m currently listening to this one as I await the train.

    Digitalis is my current favourite… all sci-fi horror shenanigans. Like Maniac Cop set on Mars. Or something. But aye, this is pretty magnificent stuff.

    Now you’ve made me want to buy some Rush.

    Liked by 1 person

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