Zero Times Everything 2021
Entranced with entropy, international avant-garde ensemble embraces universal yin and yang to prevent the end of the world.
It’s taken ZXE almost a full decade to reach the point of no return that is “Sound Of Music”: no, the band’s sophomore effort doesn’t allude to the Rodgers and Hammerstein perennial, referring instead to Pythagoras’ music of the spheres and building upon "Sonic Cinema" from 2017, to evoke the majestic scheme of apocalypse – earthly or astronomical, depending on one’s perception. Yet for every “one” there are two sides of everything, and “Sound Of Music” is a double serving of melodious miasma, extremely frightening and weirdly pacifying at the same time.
As befits its title, the “Black Hole” half of the album exudes, in turns, arresting alienation and no less alluring immersion. While the noise of opener “You Are Here” successfully tries to sort itself into an order to find a clear picture in the synthesizer-produced throbbing chaos, the assault of “Razorblade Keychain” offers a frazzled riff as if to dazzle the listener who has only defined their location, before unfurling a celestially solemn, electric violin-delivered uplift and folding back onto the same rhythmic figure that’s now infused with an even more powerful groove. As a matter of fact, rhythms get transmogrified and mangled throughout the record. Whereas the haze of “The Same Flat Field” is merely punctured by beats-laden streaks, and the glacial glistening and radio convo of the Titanic-centered “Ice Report” is warmed by a heartbeat, the sprawling industrial landscape of “Die Nacht Ist Leben” – surprisingly, a number the group included in their live repertoire for years – should churn out nightmarish chug and clang to push initial romance out of focus.
However, there’s hardly anything so unexpected in this often-amorphous atmosphere, dissolved further when vocals march through the balladry of “Milky Black Sun” to shatter the track’s transparent surface, than the bluesy skank of “Blisterine” which Tony Geballe’s guitar and Richard Sylvarnes’ bass weave with lots of gusto – a striking contrast to Pietro Russino’s strum and fluid lines taking “Tears In The Waterfall” to folksy pastures and to the crystalline “Coda”: a signal that the two volumes of the album are rather independent. And then there’s the second disc titled “White Hole” which will disorient the still-bedazzled mind by trying to pinpoint its place in this puzzle with the percussive likes of “You Are Hearer” and also present the trio’s robust, most cosmic in space-rock terms yet invigorating, reimagining of Brian Eno’s “Third Uncle” and Markus Reuter’s "Oculus" – the former infectiously motorik, the latter progressively grandiose, both high on suspense.
And this is but a route letting the listener to get prepared for the epic, 25-minute-long, multipart tapestry of “Lux Aeterna” that lists the possible end-of-the-world scenarios over the ever-shifting aural backdrop in which musique concrète is blended with methodic passaged plucked from different stylistic palettes, including opera. So once “The Sound” brings the black-and-white trip to an anticlimactic, albeit utterly satisfying, finale, a sense of impending rapture to higher spheres must descend on those who find concept unity in these two discs – ZXE’s magnum opus and a masterpiece.