Review Summary: A more adventurous beatdown album.
Let's get straight to the point here. If you listen to what is commonly referred to as 'beatdown hardcore' long enough, it is inevitable that you will come across some bands that do this aspect of their music to death. A few riffs from Cephalotripsy, Katalepsy or whatever brutal death metal band you choose; and you will find bands to create whole songs that are packed full of this riffs played at half speed. The gripe I have with this is that it's like getting anything good without working for it. It's sweet the first few times before you eventually realise that the build-up and the solid appreciation around the beatdowns are what make them so effective. For example, Nails on Unsilent Death have their fantastic speed to carve out a few killer verses before getting to a nicely contrasting slow side-to-side or beatdown. Variation in technicality is the key to getting this aspect of the genre right. Compared to bands with a nice balance of these aspects like Words Of Concrete & Dead End Tragedy - No Zodiac aren't putting out a great deal here to rival their European genre friends, falling victim to the temptation to make filler with these slow riffs; but they do show potential in a few songs.
A lot of the songs on 'Population Control' sample the style of death metal as a base for No Zodiac's kind of hardcore (this genre made evident largely through the vocal approach), utilising a decent contrast of the aforementioned 'slam' riffs of modern brutal death metal bands as well as classic metal bands such as Entombed & Obituary. These often go hand in hand outside of the purely chuggy motions of some songs, working well in songs such as 'Chaos Reigns' & 'Sadistic Intent'; creating a decent atmosphere and allowing the tempo to pick up. Even if the rest of the song is inevitably going to return to a slow set of chugs; The guitarists demonstrate that they have some strong capabilities. However, some songs fall completely into this continued, repetitive pattern of simplistically layered 'slam' riffs, e.g: 'Drowning' & 'Black Death'. This becomes dull to the point of imagining the same riff being simply increased in pitch to make a more interesting pattern. It's all well and good that you can 'throw down' to it, but when it takes up the entire song; it's practically numbing you to the effects of the vocalist and the drummer. The bass briefly says hello for a 4-second interlude in 'Non Existent' but that's all you'll see of him, unfortunately. Your typical bass-follows-guitar pattern is featured on this album for nearly every song, with little experimentation on this part. The drumming unfortunately suffers due to the nature of the guitarists; restricted in what it can do with a slow, so very slow tempo at times. It's only in the particularly fortunate and faster moments of 'Population Control' that he can demonstrate any greater skill beyond basic double bass quickfiring. His suppressed skill is evident in 'Sadistic Intent' & 'Chaos Reigns' (these being the choice cuts of the album), but for the most part you'll find his role as snare and bass drums to be a not particularly satisfying one, the cymbals sound watery at times and only come across in consistent patterns. This taking a fair bit of strength away from the music on a whole.
But the vocalist is what intrigues me the most about this band. His approach is indefinitely a hardcore one, shouting rather than using any distortion techniques in his voice aside from a double track that's largely audible and becomes fairly tedious after a while; but occasionally he breaks out into full on death vocals. These sound very impressive and a notable feature of the album, but aren't always utilised to their best extent; more often than not appearing in verses. In 'Chaos Reigns', they act as a really nice break for the slower moments of the song and ultimately display, in short glimpses, the potential of No Zodiac as a whole. And don't get me wrong, there are a few really effective beatdowns and moments on this album where the band ultimately achieve a cut above their genre's standard. But for the rest of the time, these are absent and the listener is left with the less than passionate or furious voice behind the intense and nihilistic lyrics: 'Every man woman and child on earth, has been doomed since birth. We feed on filth and worship scum, this society is built on lies and despair.' Guest vocalists make appearances in 'irreversible', 'Black Death' & 'Without Consent' - ultimately bringing another dimension of the lacking harsh vocals with their own signature styles.
Population Control is a promising album, more than anything. No Zodiac are tragically largely stuck in the mud of the 'beatdown' agenda, which is what is ultimately and unfortunately driving their music to be slower, repetitive and a lot less appealing on a whole despite the good moments on this album. Diversity needs to come about or else I fear that No Zodiac will join the ranks of the indeterminable 'beatdown crew'.