Review Summary: A very light, poppy synth-rock record that breaks the band's mold, but not anything else.
Zeromancer is an industrial rock band from the great country of Norway. They’ve released 5 albums so far- initially they sounded like a cross between Rob Zombie and Orgy with touches of Nine Inch Nails, but it seems with each album released, their sound got lighter, glossier, and more mainstream, and that reaches its zenith with this album, their fourth, “Zzyzx”. I know at the beginning of this paragraph I used the words “industrial rock” to describe Zeromancer, but this album is as far as industrial as it can possibly be, despite really subtle hints that would point towards an industrial band.
Depending on what you’re looking for, you’re either going to dig the light, poppy sound of this album, or you’re going to dismiss it as mainstream-friendly crap. “Zzyzx” is pretty much U2 crossed with Depeche Mode, and as another review once pointed out, with touches of Savage Garden. Certain songs do stand out with subtle differences between one another, but essentially the album is basic radio rock and every song, with the exception of “Idiot Music” (which is probably the “hardest” track here), seems designed to make as big a splash to the public as possible. To make sure it sounds “industrial”, every song has electronic flourishes prominently featured at the forefront. Again, think Depeche Mode, Violator-era, so that means plenty of tasty sound synths.
I personally like this album. If you’re going to shoot for mainstream success and write radio-friendly songs, you might as well do it right, and this album does that in spades. First of all, the production on this album is outstanding. Everything sounds crisp and clear- the guitars, when rocking out and distorted, just have that perfect tone to it, while the electronic noises and beats make the album sound more ambitious than it actually is. Every song shimmers… this is a polished album, and it definitely shines.
Songwriting is very strong, too. Just about every song has a very strong hook and chorus- the songwriters certainly know their way around a pop hook, and the band is competent enough to play them (on top of Alex Moklebust’s terrific vocals, simultaneously sinister and romantic). “Famous Last Words”, with its’ Edge-like U2 guitars and rising pop chorus, is so sugary sweet that you forget this is the band that once shouted “1-800-SUICIDE!” on their previous album. “Erotic Saints” is another incredibly poppy song, with a driving beat and acoustic guitars. It sounds like something straight out of a high school comedy movie.
The variety of the album is fairly impressive, but it’s only variety, not experimentation. The band simply doesn’t take chances with the songs and relies solely on basic pop/rock structures, something they didn’t do on the previous album, “Eurotrash”. Again, all of the songs here sound like a #1 hit on rock radio, and whether that’s a good or bad thing is debatable between listeners. Every song you hear, you will get that instant gratification. “Hollywood” was one of the singles released and it’s not hard to see why; it’s got a crunching, rocking chorus that will stick in your head for days on end, coupled with quiet shuffling electronic beats and hushed vocals for the bridge. The closing track, “Blood Music”, is rather abrupt in that it’s one of the faster songs here, borderline punky with loud, whiny guitars. Considering the pop/rock feel of this album, it’s a bizarre way to end it.
But, depending on which version you get, some copies contain 2 bonus songs, “New Madonna” and “Gone To Your Head”. It is highly worth seeking out the version with these 2 songs; the album feels more complete with them. Gone To Your Head is primarily an electronica song, in fact, I would go as far as saying it’s a full blown dance song (but dance by way of New Order, not Lady Gaga), and it ends the album on a nice note, like a party dying down. New Madonna is a real winner, a slow tempoed rock song with the bass right at the forefront, fuzzed out vocals that sound sung through a megaphone, and gentle electric guitars.
For fan's of Zeromancer's old sound, Idiot Music is the place to be. It sounds angry, it drones (in a good way, if that makes sense), and it is unbelievably memorable. Talk about a wall of sound!
To sum up, anyone who’s familiar with Zeromancer would generally expect an aggressive industrial rock record, with songs lamenting about chrome bitches and the like, but Zzyzx is not that. It’s a pop album, with a little more edge than similar bands of its ilk; it’s as pop as pop comes. It’s Coca-Cola- a sugary concoction designed to please as many people as possible. I know some would cry afoul to such a drastic change in sound, but considering the amount of strong material on the record, it certainly sounds like the band knows what it’s doing.
Don’t expect another Clone Your Love or Eurotrash, keep an open mind, and you’ll be fine.
As for everybody else, if you dig on Depeche Mode with a little (and I mean a little) aggression and edge to it with U2 thrown in for texture, don’t hesitate to give this one a whirl.