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Zu have never been an easy listen, and their 14th release, Carboniferous, once again documents the band's exploration of crazed jazz, noise rock, and metal. Connecting with Ipecac Records has played a large role in enhancing their sound with a bigger production and shaping them into a more metal mold -- be it a very avant-garde, Ipecac take on metal. Compared to prior outings, their Zorn-like freewheeling spirit has been toned back and songs feel more like actual "songs" with defined structure and greater emphasis on the individuality of the performers and the negative space surrounding them. In a minimal state, Jurassic bass riffs, the squawking sax trills, and the magnitude of the drum blasts seem more powerful than ever. As usual, collaborations are an important aspect of what makes Zu evolve from one record to the next. They're masters at adapting to their guests' musical backgrounds, whether those guests are from Can, Sonic Youth, or the Stooges. Here, the decade-old lineup (drummer Jacopo Battaglia, bassist Massimo Pupillo, and saxophonist Luca T. Mai) buddies up with two icons of the alt-metal world, King Buzzo and Mike Patton, to make the once heavy affair even heavier. On the album's biggest departure and most interesting track, "Soulympics," Patton delivers swampy growls, presumably through the same circuit-bent microphone apparatus that he used for Tomahawk's first two records. It's the perfect vehicle for the Fantômas/Bungle frontman, giving him full freedom to run amuck and rifle through his Rolodex of voices (and a new one: the maniacal gobbling turkey) over thudding bass and constantly changing time signatures. Buzzo's appearance is just as flavorful as the band throbs powerfully but non-intrusively behind him, giving the big-haired Melvin the opportunity to rage center stage and cut sharp harmonics on a severely overdriven guitar. On songs like "Chthonian," the script is flipped between outlandish brown-note noise intervals and minimalist hushes, leaving the listener to wait and grimace in fear of the next explosion. These parts are simply savage. When Zu in fact let loose and unleash the fury, combining power metal and raging drum'n'bass syncopation, as they do in "Axion," "Erinys," and "Mimosa Hostilis," if you overlook the horn licks, Lightning Bolt is the obvious comparison. But these guys differ in their Italian heritage, which brings influences like Ennio Morricone to the table to add sparse, mood-driven creepy lulls to that enhanced element of danger -- i.e., the darkness before the tornado touches down.

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