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Don't ask why but the bands making up my listening shortlist this week are from Illinois. Out of the four, three are from the metropolitan area of Chicago: Trouble, High Spirits, and Bible Of The Devil. The fourth, Zuul, is from Carbondale,IL, a southern part of the state informally known as "Little Egypt". I'm really digging the five-piece's latest effort, To The Frontlines, released in 2012 under High Roller Records. Fans of late 90s stoner metal such as Fireball Ministry and the Suplecs or more recent traditional metal in the vein of Amulet or Natur will eat this up right away with "The Trooper" inspired opener "Show No Mercy" and a host of other strong numbers ranging from the virtuous "Skullsplitter" to the softer but no less intricate "Of The Fallen".
Zuul has a sly stoner rock meets the NWOBHM sound that will grow on you with every listen. What's really nice about this album other than the great musicianship is the historical and battle inspired lyrical content, which is similar to that of another fantastic outfit of the genre, Virginia's Corsair. Take for instance the following verse from "Guillotine":
"Saddle the horses, tonight we ride
There's no chance of making it alive
Robespierre, is at your door
His knocking that you can't ignore"
Evidently, the band's dug deep for its knowledgeable lyrical content. This is impressive.
Then you've got the sleazy "Heavy Lover" with its delightfully cheesy lyrics:
"Here comes the rush
My fair maiden's touch
Grab hold, I'll take control
Passing the point
Of sweet romance
Now I wanna make some rock'n roll".
Guitarists Jared Mileger and Michael Butcher compliment each other as smoothly and virtuously as any self-respecting twin guitar band (like the aforementioned Bible Of The Devil or another great rural metal band I really like, Ohio's Boulder). Another strong band element is Bobby Lungoat's galloping bass playing. That said, the production on To The Frontlines is terrific. The vocals, guitars, bass and drums are well balanced. As well, To The Frontlines is consistent and organized from beginning to end. On the third track, "In The Cellar", drummer The Mosquito Hawk is in full flight and provides amazing hard rocking patterns and fills with the same energy as Night Demon's Dustin Squires. Every song on To The Frontlines is adventurous, positive and upbeat. Worth mentioning here is the vast improvement vocalist Brett Batteau has undergone, sounding more confident and equipped with a much better delivery this time around. He may have been the band's weakest link in the past but with this release, he's proven himself right for the part. His vocal range is much better now too. The cheeky "Heavy Lover" demonstrates this well. (I find it packs the same enthusiastic and over the top energy as Night Demon's fantastic hidden gem, "Ritual").
Please excuse my excessive comparisons but another doozy, the preceding track , "Smoldering Nights" features some wicked progressions which bring to mind The Cult's "Rain". Zuul takes things even further. You won't want to miss Mileger and Butcher's beautiful and mystical sounding lead playing that never gets old. "Skullsplitter" and "Bounty Land" feature lots of triplets and twin guitar harmonies and should be part of any traditional metal fan's diet.
To sum this up, it's a fair assessment to say Zuul's To The Frontlines is by far one of the best exports to come from the Land Of Lincoln...Zuul up!
How sweet it is to hear another gem from one of the better bands to emerge from Illinois in as many years. To the Frontlines is Züül's sophomore effort and actually surpasses the majesty of the debut from 2010. I never had a doubt.
Züül is one of those bands that just forces you to eagerly anticipate its next musical move. After hearing Out of Time two years ago and having the privilege of doing an “Emerging Talent” profile of my fellow statesmen, I knew well what was coming for the metal movement with these guys. There are no bells and whistles, no pomp and circumstance, and no flimsy efforts with Züül; what you hear is pure metal music that at times calls upon Thin Lizzy's magical prowess meshing perfectly with some of the classic traditional sounds of the infamous NWOBHM. With a quick and razor-sharp precision, To the Frontlines captures a moment in time and provides a new and improved soundtrack for the modern metal era. Along with Speedwolf, these guys are going to keep making loud noises all over the genre.
Each track follows a similar pattern in the basic, stripped-down galloping through barren battlefields of yesterday's influential forefathers. Whereas many bands today seem to be calling upon this artifact of a heavy metal sound, Züül manages to step up the momentum by issuing fist-banging, head-bobbing anthems like “In the Cellar” or “Show No Mercy”, which showcase the band's ability to fire on all cylinders and offer both the aging 'head and the young upstart a fine view form a bridge often buried under commercial rubble. From the standard riffs to the resonating guitar solos, this album finds the very best of modern heavy rock and takes the process to another level of greatness. The speedy effort of “Heavy Lover” sounds like something straight off the old Mausoleum label's itinerary, and if you're not familiar with it you're simply missing out. This track here is the catalyst for a past greatness that is revisited with the utmost care and diligence. The thick wall of sound that Züül produces within these songs pretty much covers the ground and simmers before ascending slowly towards the ceiling in a sort of bluish haze that's too perfect for textual summarizing.
Once “Skullsplitter” passes into the headphones I immediately backpedal to my Thin Lizzy comparison, only with much more viable speed and intensity, though the Gorham-like riffs and tones are ever prevalent. With a high-intensity output of that caliber, the slowdown of “Of the Fallen” is a welcome instrumental 'lull' that fools you into thinking you're in for a respite, only to be dropped face first into “Bounty Land”, a sort of anthem-like effort that marches along rather nicely. Vocalist Brett Batteau has that familiar even tone that sounds so British Metal it's hard to fathom this being a new release, but rest assured it is and Züül is one of the bands for the new generation that you simply need to hear.
There's no sophomore jinx here, people - To the Frontlines encompasses all of the antiquity of the distant past and the relevant tenacity of today's take-no-prisoners metal assault for the perfect sound in an imperfect period. Stop wishing for the past to come alive and rejuvenate the spirit with some classic rock 'n roll.
(Originally written for www.metalpsalter.com)