The late, great Cave-In bassist’s two bands united at the 2019 Roadburn Festival, now available as a must-own live LP
From the outside looking in, many find Metal to be cartoonish in its treatment of serious subject matter.
And while there certainly are some bands that fit that bill, many others do justice to the subjects with which they engage. Old Man Gloom and Zozobra are both bands who plumb subject matter as weighty as their dense sonic approaches. Old Man Gloom explored themes of life and loss, told through a symbolic palette evoking megalithic times, the origin of the human species, and the awe-inspiring facets of nature. Zozobra, for their part, derive their name from an annual ceremony held in Sante Fe New Mexico in which locals attach their written statements of their deepest secrets to a three-story effigy which is then burned.
Artist: Old Man Gloom + Zozobra
Album: Live at Fiesta Roadburn 2019
Label: Sige Records
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Both bands featured bassist Caleb Scofield, also of Cave-In, as a founding member, with Zozobra starting off as his solo project. Scofield was tragically killed in a traffic accident in March of 2018, and the live Zozoburn album sees these two bands come together for a live album less than a year after his death. While the groups already deal with intense topics, his loss underpins the entire performance. Recorded live at the Roadburn festival in the Netherlands, Zozoburn is a passionate tribute to their friend and bandmate.
The majority of the set is given to Old Man Gloom’s epic compositions. On the surface, they appear to draw heavily from the apocalyptic sludge of Neurosis, but they establish their own identity within the tumult. Like Neurosis, Old Man Gloom sounds bigger than a band, more immense than just some guys jamming in a room together. Their riffs sound like the procession of great expanses of time. They also utilize electronics to great effect, creating an otherworldly atmosphere to the material.
On the opening tracks “Shoulder Meat” and “Common Species”, the guitar riffs sound like black obelisks dropped from the heavens, slow and unbearably heavy. Santos Mantaño’s drums conjure Godflesh’s signature mechanical drum beats, but somehow become even heavier in human hands. “Burden” and “Simia Die” settle into more hypnotic grooves without sacrificing the sheer density that Old Man Gloom creates. Once again, “Simia Die” conjures Godflesh, in particular, “Pulp”, but Old Man Gloom substitutes a primordial and trance-inducing chug for the relentless mechanized dystopia of that tune.
The emotional climax of Old Man Gloom’s set comes halfway through their set in the form of the mammoth, thirteen-minute piece “A Hideous Nightmare Lie Upon the World”. The track employs noise and feedback in the beginning before quieting down and allowing sampled dialogue to sneak through. The song starts in earnest with an Isis-inspired guitar riff which leads to more apocalyptic chugging. The group continues to walk a tightrope between brutality and hypnotic immersion, the song is a cathartic, if not an animal-like wail of pain and suffering. Eventually, they quiet down again and the sampled voices reemerge. “Ok, we’ll just give him more time and let him die. He’ll die soon, I’m sure…” the voices say. The conversation occurs between two men as a third suffers nearby. It’s impossible to know what this song means to the members of Old Man Gloom, but even without knowledge of the group’s experiences, the samples prove to be an emotional gut punch.
AUDIO: Old Man Gloom “A Hideous Nightmare Lie Upon The World”
The rest of the set, Old Man Gloom introduces a greater sense of melody and dynamics to their tunes, all without compromising the intensity of the material. They also pick up the tempos, foreshadowing Zozobra taking the reins. The final song, “To Carry the Flame”, reverts to the epic sludge of the first half of the set before ascending skyward with ecstatic drumming and a melodic chord progression played by the guitars. They fall to earth with one more section of punishing doom.
Zozobra seemingly takes the stage immediately at Old Man Gloom’s conclusion, and with “The Cruelest Cut” they inject a vicious hardcore energy into the equally weighty material. If Old Man Gloom evokes a sense of awe before the natural world, Zozobra reflects the inherent violence of nature. “Soon to Follow” pulls the tempo back a bit, but it is still a more visceral approach. When a guitar melody enters, the band also takes on more of a Rock approach, allowing the individual instruments to find their place in the mix, rather than existing as a monolithic whole.
“Emanate” and “Invisible Wolves” both unearth more discordant, hardcore energy. Each tune fights like a cornered animal. Yet, “Invisible Wolves” also find a moment for a clean vocal line to slip in between Jacob Bannon’s trademark screams.
Their set, and the album as a whole, closes with “A Distant Star Fades”. Here, the immediacy of the other material steps back and the audience is treated to a progressive and melodic song, more reminiscent of Caleb Scofield’s third and best-known band Cave-In. By dialing back their ferocity, Zozobra allows their emotions to come through and it proves a powerful way to end the show.
AUDIO: Zozobra “A Distant Star Fades”
Both Old Man Gloom and Zozobra have a way of making the cosmic feel personal and the personal feel cosmic. Between “Emanate” and “Invisible Wolves” an audience member shouts “We love you Caleb”, to which a band member replies “always”, and it feels like an important moment. It ties together the abstract content of the songs to real life. Metal isn’t cartoonish when we contemplate our existence, and especially when the bigger events in our lives overpower the mundane.
The stage, during the set, is a space where everything important in life seems to play out. These musicians let us into their world to consider these matters in our own lives, and for that, we should be thankful.