ZOND’s debut album is a milestone in the rise of one of Australia’s most exhilarating, singular and deafening bands, writes RENÉ SCHAEFER.
An eerie calm ushers in ZOND’s debut album. Like wandering through an abandoned town at the foot of a volcano that is about to erupt, the feeling is one of anxious anticipation before the inevitable razing of the constructed world. When the first tremors hit, and showers of black ash block out the sun, it’s as spectacularly beautiful as it is threatening. And then all hell breaks loose.
Over recent years, ZOND have consistently mesmerised Melbourne audiences in small venues, laying waste to stages with their tinnitus-inducing barrage. Not a noise band, and not really a rock band either, they have few peers and don’t belong to any particular scene. What they do is neither free-form improvisation, nor clearly defined songwriting. Even to describe what ZOND sound like is almost impossible.
First there is a thick blanket of guitars played by Marney Macleod and Justin Fuller. The two create a fearsomely intense, yet also carefully controlled chaos over the majestic and rock-solid bass lines of Stephen Thomas and the batshit-crazy punk rock drumming of Tym Krasevac. Distortion reigns supreme as Macleod and Fuller push each other to new levels of intensity. Disembodied vocals fade in and out of the swirling mass; sometimes angry, sometimes ethereal, sometimes just ghostly echoes.
ZOND find beauty in chaos. Everything is on the verge of collapsing in upon itself. Whereas shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine and Ride once evoked expansive horizons and the dissolution of ego in a psychedelic haze, ZOND conjure an atmosphere of claustrophobia, unease and isolation in the listener, with a single-mindedness of vision that borders on autism.
“What they do is neither free-form improvisation, nor clearly defined songwriting. Even to describe what ZOND sound like is almost impossible.”
ZOND explore an inner-space that can be scary at times. Like Samuel Beckett’s narrator in The Unnamable, we are plunged into an undefined grey void in which nothing exist other than our own self-awareness; where the objective world loses meaning and life has to be reconstructed from scratch. Even the album cover speaks of this, with its silver-grey abstraction and solarised band shots portraying the musicians as self-absorbed and distant.
Sometimes ZOND’s music builds up such velocity that it almost appears to vanish. Cultural theorist Paul Virilio has termed this kind of effect “picnolepsy”: a condition of brief lapses of time and momentary absences of consciousness produced by the experience of speed.
ZOND’s ambition in putting together this album is clearly evident. After all, it’s the culmination of a lengthy process of collaboration between musicians whose history stretches back to previous bands such as On, Library Punks and Fong. Having always been a highly volatile unit, the ZOND sound eventually coalesced with the addition of Thomas on bass as a stabilising element. His anchoring role is pivotal to the songs on this album.
Recorded by Jack Farley and mastered by Casey Rice, the album not so much tries to replicate the head-pounding impact of a live set, but instead exposes the subtleties and intricate layers of sound within the boiling cauldron of noise. No one element ever dominates the mix to the detriment of others. ZOND is more than the sum of its parts – an entity beyond the contribution of individual musicians.
Thomas’ recent departure from the band has seen a shift into yet another phase, with new members Matthew Brown (keyboards) and Harriet Morgan (bass) already contributing significantly to ZOND’s further evolution. Consequently, this album is a document of a particular era in the history of a remarkable group. Coinciding with their performance during the Vivid Live festival at Sydney Opera House – at the invitation of Lou Reed, no less – the album’s release is a milestone in ZOND’s continuing rise as one of Australia’s most exhilarating and singular bands.
ZOND's self-titled debut is out now through R.I.P Society Records.