Tracklisting:森川誠一郎 [Seiichiro Morikawa] (vocals)
Shout To Shout
99 (Dead Body)
Shout To Shout
99 (Dead Body)
河津雄彦 [Osahiko Kawatsu] (guitar)
安藤恵一 [Keiichi Ando] (bass)
星野昌巳 [Masami Hoshino] (drums)
Label: Vital Plant Ltd.
Catalogue number: EXP-VPL181019
Bitrate: 320 kbps
ZOA was one of the more prolific bands of the Japanese underground, releasing a slew of records and still being active well into the noughties. Fronted by singer and only permanent member Seiichiro Morikawa, the band at times counted (relative) celebrities such as Ruins-drummer Yoshida Tatsuya and rital ambient unit Vasilisk in their ranks.
This is their self-titled debut, released on the Vital Plant Ltd. imprint - a subdivision of metal label Explosion Records, meant to put out records of a more gothic type (other bands on the rooster included Gara and Surrealistic Men). ZOA:s later efforts are leaning more towards the progressive and hard sides of rock. In comparison, this 12" is of a much more dark and experimental nature which could be accounted for by being the only one employing this particular setting - by the next release (1987:s "Off Black" on Trans Records) all members save Seiichiro Morikawa were replaced.
Kicking off the record is the mesmerizing "Out". Revolving around a repetitive, semi-oriental guitar-figure backed by the rumbling rhythm-secion, ZOA effectively utilizes the guitar as a snake charmers pipe. This minor-key dirge evokes an almost psychedelic (off-psychedelic?) state of simultaneous bliss and unrest. The processed vocals hovers above, spreading wobbly despair over the entire proceedings.
Following "Out" is "Shout To Shout", a.k.a. "Cry The War". A virtual stampede of tom-tom heavy drumming, super-heavy slap-bass and guitar slashing wildly slashing about - this is certainly one of ZOA:s most memorable moments, not at least due to the bizarrely evocative refrain of "CRYYYYYYYYYYY THE WAR!" smashing through the aural space as a brick to the face. This was later re-recorded for the first "NG" compilation on Trans Records, although I'd say that the version present here is the better one.
Another hard and fast tracks awaits us on the backside of the platter in the form of "99 (Dead Body)". The rhythm-section here is truly phenomenal. In particular the drums with their almost abstract smatters of leaden tom-toms impress - hats off indeed to drummer Masami Hoshino. Otherwise, most of what I said about "Shout To Shout" applies here - "99" is as fierce a ripper as they come; truly a great cut. Watch out for the weird up-beat passage that suddenly comes and goes somewhere past the middle of the song.
Possibly saving the best for last, ZOA rounds off the record on a note of total despair with the super-downer "Das Grab" - the definitive soundtrack to your nightmare of choice. Sounding as if expelling demons en masse, the absurdly processed vocals of Seiichiro Morikawa span the range of negative human emotions (rage/fear/depression/apathy) whilst engulfed in the toxic vapors emitted by the acid rain poured from the guitar. Ever wondered what human limbs encased in cement might sound like when hitting the ocean floor? The bass and drums provide an ample answer. Somewhere in the background a drum-machine brittly ticks away. For all your cathartic needs, "Das Grab" delivers in spades.
I've yet to hear all of ZOA:s output, but I'm inclined to consider this their crowning achievement. Not to say that their later works are bad in any way - far from it! - but they are also quite different animals compared to this ominous slice of vinyl. Very recommended!