Graded on a Curve: Zonal,
Wrecked

Zonal is the handiwork of Justin Broadrick, he most notably of Godflesh, in partnership with Kevin Martin, aka The Bug, who’s been involved in a slew of projects including most recently King Midas Sound. This duo worked extensively through the 1990s and into the new millennium as Techno Animal, and folks who dug them before are likely to find Wrecked, their long-playing debut under a fresh moniker, very much of interest, especially as it offers six tracks with Philadelphia-based Afro-futurist MC Moor Mother, aka Camae Ayewa, of 700 Bliss and Irreversible Entanglements. It’s out October 25 on double vinyl, compact disc, and digital through Relapse Records.

Wrecked is a record of halves. It’s first six tracks cohere into the collab with Moor Mother outlined above, with the subsequent six the work of Broadrick and Martin alone. This suggests an appreciable level of confidence on the part of the duo, as following the trio portion, a potentially gangbusters team-up as evidenced by Ayewa’s superb contribution to The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s We Are On the Edge released earlier this year, with material lacking in her undeniably powerful presence, could easily risk disappointment.

It turns out the pair’s assurance was not unfounded, though the cuts with Moor Mother do immediately establish this record as something more than a simple recommencement of activities adorned with a fresh handle after a long hiatus; the final Techno Animal full-length, The Brotherhood of the Bomb, came out in 2001 on the Matador label.

Techno Animal were no strangers to collaboration, with their discography including credits from Jon Hassell, Antipop Consortium, dälek, El-P, and Rob Sonic, but with the exception of Symbiotics, their 1999 release co-billed with Porter Ricks (the duo of Thomas Köner and Andy Mellwig), I don’t recall a collab in their discography that’s as extensive as the one undertaken here with Moor Mother.

Indeed, had they been issued separately, these half-dozen trio tracks would’ve made for a trim but wholly satisfying LP. Part of the reason derives from a seeming disinclination, the title of the record aside, to pummel the listener with chaotic abrasion. A whole lot of electronics-based mayhem has transpired since Techno Animal took their big break (some of it surely impacted by this pair’s considerable achievements), with the ante effectively upped, but there is no perceptible straining for relevance across Wrecked’s runtime (totaling a smidge over an hour, justifying the four sides of vinyl).

This is particularly fitting for the selections with Moor Mother, as Zonal enhance her socially conscious poetics without smothering or obscuring her input; opener “Body of Wire” is a warped sci-fi scenario underlining the Afro-futurist bona fides. “In a Cage” and “System Error” are decidedly more impacted by hip-hop, and in the former, she incorporates a line that will surely remind a large segment of those hearing it of a certain Smashing Pumpkins tune (you could even call it a deliberate lift) and then through sheer repetition and force of expression, makes it her own.

With all this said, Wrecked ain’t exactly Easy Listening on the instrumental front. “System Error” and “Medulla” kick up a nice racket, while “Catalyst” exudes a haze of dusted loops that nicely accentuates Ayewa’s lethargic vocal delivery. Loops persist in “No Investigation,” the last of the selections with Moor Mother, but overall, the track highlights the post-Industrial component in Zonal’s equation.

Other ingredients include dub, hip-hop, ambient and noise; altogether, back when Techno Animal was extent, the sound was often called Illbient. It’s a term that seems to have fallen by the wayside, though Zonal dive into the stylistic mix wholeheartedly throughout Wrecked, and in doing so consistently sound like more than just an album rescued from an overstuffed second-hand CD bin circa 1998.

Obviously, the collab with Moor Mother is a major factor in the record’s contemporary heft, but the six duo cuts succeed through methodical variation. An emphasis on rhythm and noise gets asserted in the title track, this combo persisting through “Debris” and “Black Hole Orbit Zone” to reach a slamming-beat apex in “S.O.S”

With “Alien Within,” matters take a turn for dark abstraction that extends into the finale of “Stargazer,” the record ending not with an attempted big bang faltering into a belly flop but rather with an air of corroded, drifting mystery. That Wrecked does more than merely hold the interest is impressive. That the members of Zonal are still managing to create at a high level after so many years in a scene where veteran artists regularly lose potency and become stale rather quickly, borders on the remarkable.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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