By Paul Rodgers
CALGARY — The debut album by Moncton, New Brunswick duo Zaum takes its listener on a sonic journey. Oracles is an exploration of the ancient history of the Middle East set to an immense psychedelic soundtrack of five gradually rising and falling doom metal songs, incorporating droning chants and a guitar sound that at times emulates the sitar through its effect saturation.
Created by only two people, including drummer Christopher Lewis and vocalist, bassist and synth player Kyle Alexander-McDonald, the album was born courtesy of a fascination with the music and history of the Middle East. According to Alexander-McDonald, this began in his youth as a jazz drummer studying music from all over the world. Later in the early ‘90s, the multi-instrumentalist associated the word “Zaum,” a word of Russian origin, with his creative life.
“It essentially goes back to the initial definition or term of zaum which is communication without words or communication of the mind, or in this case it’s communication via Zaum which is the band itself,” he describes.
“To bring the listener to a place of their own destination, not so much us trying to direct somebody to a specific place as much as putting the avenue out there for the listener to utilize,” continues Alexander-McDonald. He personally employs a meditative, deeply introspective approach to the early stages of his musical composition, honed after over two and a half decades of diligent practice and time spent as a studio engineer. Prior to Zaum, Alexander-McDonald was a member of doom/stoner metal act Shevil, while drummer Lewis sang for essential stoner rock act Iron Giant.
“Essentially for me, I’ll sit and play, and when I find something that I am able to lose myself in, I’ll typically record multiple ideas,” he explains. “When I find something like that, I’ll usually come back to it.”
Two-piece bands may create brilliant masterpieces in the studio, but they run the risk of being unable to deliver the full audio experience expected by a live audience. Alexander-McDonald combats this by minimizing the layering of instruments and effects, wielding subtlety, simplicity and his lengthy studio experience. Accordingly, the sounds that echo the ancient instrument of the sitar heard on Oracles are effects; McDonald aims to use an actual sitar on the next album. He also states that he has not ruled out the option of one day adding a third player to the group, provided that they were adequately able to commit to the project and were not held back by outside obligations.
“I don’t think there are a whole lot of borders,” he says. “I just think that right now, the way it comes across, it is what it is. I want it to feel like one piece; I don’t want it to be boring but I don’t want it too be busy.”
In addition to Oracles, Zaum has an upcoming split with heavy instrumental act Saskatoon band Shooting Guns, which is “a part of the whole entity or story of Zaum.” Their side is a prequel to Oracles, taking place “thousands of years” prior. The band’s next record, which
Alexander-McDonald says is due for release in the fall, will be the chronological sequel.
“(The split) is an opportunity that I was able to use to go back and shed some light on why things are the way they are with Oracles,” says Alexander-McDonald.
He concludes, “The next record will take off from there.”
See Zaum on tour in April and May. They’ll play Lethbridge on April 29, Calgary at Broken City on April 30 and at National Music Centre on May 5 and Edmonton at Wunderbar on May 7.AB, Alberta, Broken City, National Music Centre, Wunderbar, Zaum