Zombi
Spirit Animal

For a band whose whole shtick is rooted in the cinematic prog-synth of 70s forebears like Tangerine Dream and Goblin, nostalgia is an expected part of the experience. Although previous albums Cosmos and Surface to Air are fine on their own merits, they really hit home (at least for me) because they recall those bands’ film soundtracks, from Italian giallo to thrillers like Risky Business or Firestarter. Guess you can also throw in every film score John Carpenter ever wrote.

So the cover art of Spirit Animal, with its charging elephant and garish dreamscape colors, was a confusing surprise, since it’s such a departure from the cosmic sterility of its predecessors. I initially expected something like Goblin‘s strange gun-department African music from the original Dawn of the Dead, but thankfully, there’s not a single tribal beat on the whole album.

Instead, the title track conjures something majestic and serene, with a stately processional march that matches whimsical synths to a soaring guitar solo. The track’s second movement slows to a lovely nocturne, with a sussurant flute that echoes the Arabian Dance from Tchaikovsky‘s Nutcracker Suite. I’m catching a heavy dose of Camel‘s The Snow Goose here as well – quite unexpected for these guys, but given the synth-worship, maybe not. Finally, we return to the first section, now presented as a recessional dirge. While “Spirit Animal” lacks the cold, stark menace of Zombi‘s previous work, it’s no less transportive, and the warmer approach makes me eager to hear what the rest of the journey will be like.

The follow-up, “Spirit Warrior,” doesn’t disappoint. It starts as a snazzier, more playful return to the cyclical synths of Surface to Air, and then slows to a staccato pulse backed by a heartbeat bass line. That’s part of Zombi‘s appeal – the organic rock elements balance out the synthetic and fantastic – a formula that’s even more striking in a live setting. The second half of “Spirit Warrior” is probably my favorite moment of the disc, as it sounds like the end credits of a zombie movie, where the survivors are left to enjoy a little bit of hope after their long nightmare.

Unfortunately, the journey ends there for me, as the remainder of Spirit Animal seems less inspired – or inspiring – than those initial two tracks. “Earthly Powers” is a fine piece of twitchy, strutting prog, but it fails to spark my imagination. Its counterpart, “Cosmic Powers”, does even less – it fidgets, stutters, ripples and shimmers, but there’s little wonder to be had. And while album closer “Through Time” delivers the expected menace with heavier tones and a lurching gait, I found it too repetitive – especially when compared with the thoughtful construction of the title track.

Ultimately, Spirit Animal is a solid offering, and it certainly brings some new elements and moods to the Zombi catalog, but I don’t think I’ll be playing it from beginning to end that often. As a complete experience, Surface to Air is still my favorite, but I’ll definitely be adding the first two tracks of this one to my prog/post-rock playlists.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
July 1st, 2009

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