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Fat Possum
Malachi Constant
Zenith
Double Indemnity Records

Rating: NR/10 ?


October 1, 2004
I've been listening to Zenith with some trepidation for a couple of weeks now. There has already been some talk about Malachi Constant on the message board of this fine website, and I wanted to be sure that I absorbed the disc as much as possible before I delivered my verdict. Obviously, several of our readers have already heard this band, and maybe even this album, but the first time I put Zenith on the stereo I was going in blindfolded, with a clean slate. To fans of the band, I must concede their point. This album is good, and by that I mean really good. I mean, if you haven't heard this album yet, and you consider yourself a fan of indie-rock at all, you should stop reading now, go get a copy, give it a listen, and then come back to read this review so that we have ample working knowledge to begin the discourse on what is sure to be one of the best albums released this year.

Done it? Good. Let's proceed into the dissection. Zenith's opening track, "The Spice of Life", is a perfect place to start describing this album because it exemplifies what Malachi Constant does so well. The song begins with a big guitar riff that lesser bands would rush back to after their first verse like a lost child in a supermarket spotting his mother in the aisle ahead. Absorb it as best you can though, because it won't be repeated. Traditionally, the first verse is followed by a band punching a song's chorus in, but here the opening track slows, shifts, shimmers, meanders, and then builds in intensity, finally settling right back into the second verse. Zenith is about delayed gratification. It dangles wonderful phrases at the listener only long enough to make sure you wont forget them, but the carrot trick here makes the album a necessary repeat listener rather than a frustrating ruse. This is why when the band does bring the rock back after the second verse it feels better than any sensation ever garnered from having some fine girl grind up against you while doing designer drug in a laser-light filled dance club. But as soon as you settle into it, it stops with an abrupt halt, for what would be some frustrating guitar gibberish, if it didn't lurch immediately back into the distorted void that is then filled with chaotic feedback and incessant trumpet wailings. This is Zenith keeping you on your toes, it wanted to make sure you were still paying attention after that rush of endorphins.

Continuing right where "The Spice of Life" left off, the second track, "Happenstance", begins with a plaintive three-note melody that's engulfed by the band, wasting no time in getting right back to the rock. The song is a two and a half minute blast with only the most miniscule, and somewhat quirky, relief from the aural assault. It's in this juxtaposition of dynamics, which is never as blatant as the early 90's on-again-off-again stomp box toe tapping, that Malachi Constant really excels.

Zenith also comes with some rather interesting sonic explorations, such as "Rhythms", and the clumsily titled "Global Capitalism's Exploitation Breeds Poverty and Despair". The former is a feedback-channeling maelstrom anchored down by its increasingly aggressive and enthralling drumming. The latter is a creeping melodic instrumental that erupts just before the three-minute mark. But what sets these, and other instrumentals on the record, apart from bands such as Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky, is that they never feel cinematic. I can't imagine wanting to hear Malachi Constant's music in a film. The instrumentals are hardly pretty, in a good way, and the sense of tension kept throughout them would cause Zenith's onslaught to simply detract from the images, reducing the power of the film, and making it nothing more than a sonic accompanist.

The wonderful thing about this album, though, is that it is never haughty or pretentious enough to assume that it is movie music. The instrumental approach that Zenith favors never alleges to paint your brain with the euphoric visual stimuli that many of Malachi Constant's contemporaries might try to call to mind. Resisting the cinematic urge, the music on Zenith comes across more like getting your head beaten in, permanent tread scars and all, by a gutter punk's Doc Martens. The guitar and bass tones are blunt, full of mid-range and bottom end, and only glistening in treble when necessary. The drumming is engaging, shifting rhythms and making the time signatures often hard to nail down. As far as indie-rock goes, Malachi Constant seems to have the complete package.

Let the bigheaded composers, and pretentious instrumental bands have their film scores. Malachi Constant is a band of intelligent musicians making great indie-rock with no preconceived intentions, and no bullshit. Unless the second half of this year comes on real strong, this disc will almost assuredly be finding a spot reserved for itself on my list for the best records of two-double ought-two.

Reviewed by Mark Skipper
Mark Skipper currently resides in Nashville, TN where he can be found skipping shows, drinking Guinness, making bad home recordings, and complaining about how much music sucks these days.

See other reviews by Mark Skipper

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