Artist: Zero Stroke
Album Title: As The Colours Seep
Year Of Release: 2015
One of the biggest joys of writing this blog is discovering new talent for which there is not necessarily the room or time to cover for other publications. Over the years I have been sent requests from an increasing number of bands asking me to check their material out and, where possible, I will try to have a listen. Zero Stroke, a progressive metal band from Cape Town, South Africa, were one such band.
Having written about music for so long, I shouldn’t be surprised that there is such a wealth of undiscovered and unsigned talent out there. However, when you consider how much dross does get signed, I can’t help but wonder why certain acts, such as Zero Stroke, continually evade capture.
‘As The Colours Seep’ is the title given to the debut EP from Zero Stroke and it demonstrates without doubt that there’s clearly a wealth of talent within the four members that comprise the band, namely Chad Adam Browne (guitars), Michael Short (vocals), John Yarnold (drums) and Alex Rohloff (bass). Instrumentally, the talent is there for all to hear as the five compositions that make up this half-hour-long EP are packed full of different ideas and plenty of complexity. I come away after each listen thinking the same thing: ‘that was intense’. The compositions in the main are certainly very busy and there’s a lot to take in. At times I’m reminded of the likes of Cynthesis and the similarly-monikered Zero Hour courtesy of the same core protagonists. Is this a coincidence? I’m not sure but there are definitely a few parallels.
Throughout, it is the interplay between the guitar and bass that stands out for me. The EP doesn’t have the greatest production to it if I’m honest, lacking a little in terms of mid-range guts but the fact that you can hear the bass guitar is to be applauded and is a definite strength of this relatively small budget recording. It’s not there to simply beef up the bottom end and chug away in the background; instead, Alex Rohloff plays with dexterity and imagination giving the songs an extra dimension as the instrument flits in and out embellishing the music when required. In fact, track two, entitled ‘Mask’ is dominated by the bass to really nice effect.
The other big strength to this record is the guitar playing, courtesy of Chad Adam Browne which runs the full gamut of heavy riffing, as demonstrated by the thrash-influenced ‘Machine’ for example, fast solos and intricate phrases, licks and runs.
The elephant in the room for me where such technical prog is concerned, is whether or not the music is complex for the sake of it and whether the notion of a song is compromised as a result. I love technical prowess but I also require some kind of hook or something memorable to tempt me in for repeated listens. Fortunately for Zero Stroke, they have managed to avoid this pitfall by injecting just enough melody into proceedings. In fact, the more I listen, the more I notice, meaning that there’s a nice subtlety to help increase the longevity of the music. The mid-section to the epic opener ‘The Median Cycle’ opens up nicely in and amongst the maelstrom of complexity around it. The closing section of ‘Machine’ features a very hummable melody, ‘Shed’ is a rather lovely acoustic-led piece whilst the closer ‘There Were Flaws’ borders on the anthemic, encouraging a wide smile to split my otherwise miserable visage.
The biggest criticism I have about this EP however, is unfortunately where the vocals are concerned. There’s no doubting Michael Short’s enthusiasm as he belts out the lyrics with real gusto. His attack is varied, tackling the high stuff as well as the lows. However, there are times when the delivery feels a little forced, particularly when negotiating the higher notes. That said. the more I digest the music, the more I get used to the vocal delivery. I’m not for one second suggesting that Short is a bad singer, far from it, but I think on the follow-up, more focus on the strengths and little more restraint might be a wise consideration.
Small criticisms aside, I really rather like this EP. The biggest compliments I can pay are that I look forward to listening to it repeatedly and I find myself wishing that there were more than just the five tracks. If you’re a fan of intricate and challenging progressive metal, you could do a lot worse than give Zero Stroke a listen. I suspect they’re a name we’ll be hearing a lot more of in the future.
The Score Of Much Metal: 7.5
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld