High-profile releases in 2016 have seemed to have fallen into one of two categories – the old guard making a much-anticipated return and the new breed finally given the opportunity to prove themselves. In terms of the latter, there have been two bands who’ve needed to seize such an opportunity more than most – Heck and ZOAX. With both bands building up a reputation for anarchic live performances but a distinct lack of real songs, the chance to show exactly what they’re fully capable of on a full-length album is not something to be missed. Heck passed with flying colours on Instructions a few months back, and now on their self-titled debut, ZOAX are ready to take a stab at success themselves.
To shoot perfectly straight, they don’t succeed. ZOAX may be known for a certain livewire persona onstage, but very little of the translates to here. Instead, this album is overly meticulous, underdeveloped and surprisingly forgettable. It’s one of the few albums that could probably benefit from a bit more obnoxiousness, given how empty and uninteresting a lot of it actually sounds. It seems that ZOAX can’t actually decide what they want to be, spending the entire album flitting between atmospheric alt-rock and angular post-hardcore, but subduing it all and preventing it from having the impact it should.
Regardless, there are definitely tracks that stand out as highlights, particularly in the album’s first half. Roses All The Way‘s fluid guitar line and skittering nervous energy paints it as the most complete song on the album, and ZuperHeroez builds up an interesting presence with its rubbery guitar lines and danceable grooves. However, the most consistently strong feature of this album is vocalist Adam Carroll. There’s a malevolence in his personality that shines through in his contributions, especially in Devil Dance as he flits between smooth quasi-croons and gruff bellows of screams. He also is the source of the most noteworthiness in terms of album features – his presence at least adds some intrigue to even the weaker tracks (the manic breakdown in the middle of Mirrors is a perfect example), and at least makes the album worthy of a listen or two.
But that’s really the only constant through-line to be found, as for the most part, ZOAX is a complete mess. The attempts at flitting between full-on and minimalist passages on Fly High and KSYCHIA are carried out with no discernible flow and just feel bitty, and even when some tracks threaten to really explode as on Good Times, they’re held back and feel far too rigid as a result. The whole process feels completely counterintuitive to the live reputation that ZOAX have established, in that these tracks feel far too safe and nicely crafted to have the same impact.
And that’s perhaps the worst thing about this album. A lot of these tracks aren’t outright bad; they just suffer from poor decisions made that stop them from fully spreading their wings. If tracks like Alive In Sound were given a bit more freedom and not tied down to the jerky riffs it’s currently burdened with, it would be a superior end product. But with what ZOAX have done on this album, they’ve cultivated a forgettability that really doesn’t suit them.
So rather than dismiss ZOAX as a ‘bad’ album, it’d probably be more accurate to dub it a missed opportunity. The seeds have definitely been sewn for some impressive things in the future, but to reach that point, there’s a lot of work to be done, and a lot of building on this debut album. Because at this moment in time, ZOAX seem to be a band unsure of what they really want to be, and because of that, this album never truly piques the interest or attention as much as it really should. But not all hotly tipped bands can succeed first time round, and it just so happens that ZOAX have turned out to be one of them.
For fans of: Press To MECO, The JCQ, Faith No More
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘ZOAX’ by ZOAX is out now on Century Media.