Current Kayo Dot guitarist and former guitarist/vocalist for So is the Tongue, Ron Varod, creates sprawling and haunting compositions for his solo endeavor, Zvi. The Brooklyn musician’s first foray into this dark, guitar-centered realm was the project’s self-titled debut, which was released back in 2014. The album featured eight, dense tracks that were sonically arresting and defied categorization. Varod’s skill as a songwriter and his unique utilization of his six-string instrument made Zvi‘s very basic setup multifaceted and enthralling. Despite being involved in a multitude of acts, Varod returned earlier this year with the faithful follow-up to that imaginative first full-length. Zvi II: Death Stops Us All shows the project becoming more massive, dismal and experimental. With only three tracks, this record plummets listeners into a cold aural abyss of which there is no escape.
Zvi II eases the listener into its clutches with the rather simplistic, yet somber opening number, “You’ve Charmed Me, I Will Stay”. The sparse, five-minute tune is driven by Varod’s chilling vocals and beautifully empty guitar arrangements. The track’s cyclic acoustic strumming is soon draped in a shroud of reverberating, wavering ambiance that hums emptily until the track’s end. After the song comes to a close, Zvi drags the listener into darkness with the album’s two main compositions, “Black Leaves” and “Whale Bone Cage”.
The 17-minute “Black Leaves” opens with a procession of spacious, downtrodden guitars that slowly crawl through streams of swirling effects and hollow reverb. After nearly six-minutes of this melancholic march, the guitars unleash these bellowing bursts of dissonant noise that sound like a machine malfunctioning. The guitars continue vomiting these bending, grinding outbursts while tortured screams can be heard echoing beneath the madness. The track briefly returns to “normal” with Varod’s haunting vocals, minimalist guitars and ethereal ambiance, before the track becomes a cacophonous hell for the remainder of its duration. The guitars are soon swallowed by noise and conjure these down-tuned, distorted doom crawls that are accompanied by ex-Khanate vocalist Alan Dubin’s infamous psychotic ramblings.
The 15-minute closing track, “Whale Bone Cage”, opens up with shimmering guitar melodies that echo gorgeously against its empty backdrop, with Varod’s spectral vocals to wash over them. The song steadily delivers these massive melodic chords that eventually decay into an ocean of hypnotic ambiance. As the track progresses, the ambiance slowly changes from melodic to sinister as the guitars start to deal out noisy, piercing bursts of sound. After 12 minutes the noisy dirge ceases and Varod and his gloomy guitar spearheads the remainder of this slow-burning opus.
With limited auditory weapons at its disposal, Zvi II gets a hell of a lot more with less. These three compositions, particularly the final two, showcase the strengths of this project and the seemingly endless things that can be achieved with its sound. Zvi is a truly unique and often unnerving musical endeavor that will excite fans of experimental and weird music, as well as those enamored with the other projects its creator is involved in.
Release Date: February 5, 2016
Label: Independent/Halfpear Records
Favorite Track: “Black Leaves”
For Fans of: Gnaw, Kayo Dot and Swans