Style: Groove Metal
Release Date: 24 Apr 2020
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The guys in Survival Zero, who hail from Troyes, southeast from Paris, kindly sent me a copy of this, which I believe is their debut album. They're a five piece band led by twin guitars but they play their take on groove metal in a traditional way, achieving agreeable heaviness without losing their sense of melody. And that's good, because the the further a groove metal band shifts into nu metal, the less I tend to appreciate them. The closest Survival Zero get to nu metal is the backing vocal on Ascension, which still works well.
I certainly enjoyed this album, which is all the things you expect from the genre but with more besides. Those twin guitars, courtesy of Régis Bernard and Benoit Raguin are downtuned but go to a lot of interesting places. Lost in Eri is a really good intro, for something under two minutes, because it's a definition of sound, telling us what this is going to be and what it isn't going to be at all. It starts with an echoing pulse, like a depth reading, a surprising note over a rumbling that builds into a statement of intent, with the guitar line supreme. So many times here I was enjoying a song, only for a guitarist to add another melodic layer over the top and deepen the sound.
The rhythm section is fantastic. Pierre Touzanne's bass is a serious anchor here, often mirroring the rhythm guitar but sometimes rumbling beyond it, as on Degeneration and especially early in The Otherverse. I liked the drums of Thibaut Gugger perhaps more than anything else here, especially on the songs with more unusual rhythms for a metal drummer, such as The Coldspot and The Otherverse. These play in tribal territory, raising a Sepultura comparison that isn't otherwise particularly apparent.
That leaves vocalist Pierre Lebaillif, who I left for last because it's the vocals that often determine whether I'm going to like a groove metal band or really not. I like his contribution because he manages to find the agreeable midpoints needed to make his style work with this band. For instance, he has a clean but raspy shout and a sort of light death growl, both of which give him much more opportunity to enunciate and intonate than he would be able to manage with either approach full on.
The result of all this is that The Ascension is a notably deep groove metal album. I don't mean depth of tone because I could seriously throw a rock in Phoenix and hit a more downtuned band. I mean in depth of sound because the final element here that makes all this work so well is a progressive edge. I wouldn't call Survival Zero a prog metal band any more than I'd call them a reggae band, as they emphatically play groove metal, but there's a lot more focus on instrumental sections than I'd expect and there's a prog nature in the songwriting, even when Lebaillif is singing.
I had no conception, before listening to this, how prog and groove could mix but I like what Survival Zero have conjured up here. Sure, they're heavy, as you'd expect for a groove metal band, but there's a lot of dynamic play here to highlight the heaviness through contrasts with much lighter, more melodic material. It's cleverly written stuff and it's very tightly played.
I've talked a lot here about what I like on The Ascension. There isn't much that I didn't like, even though groove metal is hardly my go to subgenre. I liked the aspects I usually like in groove metal and I liked the aspects I'm usually more turned off by. Frankly, to highlight what I didn't like, I'd be forced to call out whatever that fluttery guitar is early on Foundation that made me wonder, every damn time, whether there was a sheep behind me wanting to be fed. And I'm listening in my home office.
Oh, and if I'm researching properly, Survival Zero have only been around for a year? That adds an extra level of impressive. What's the next album going to sound like once they've had a chance to play live together for a while?