Given how much quality music I've been finding coming out of Greece lately, I keep my eyes open for more and this one looked interesting. Metal Archives call what Zebu do southern metal, which is fair but not entirely true. Sure, there's plenty of sludge metal here—just check out Our Shame for sludge riffing—and stoner metal too, so southern metal works. However, there are points where they shift a little into neighbouring genres and, in at least one instance, a genre over from that, which is more of a stretch but still a welcome one.
For a start, there's some more traditional Black Sabbath type doom at points, not only in the riffing, which is especially obvious on Shattered Mentality and The Hunger, but deeper on songs like Burden, where it's obvious in soloing and breakdown sections too. There are points where the band speed up with more of a Pantera effect, especially on Hollow, so there's groove metal to be found here. And, almost at the end of The Skin I Wear, there's a section that speeds up so far we can only call it thrash.
I liked that thrashy section a lot but this band exist more naturally at a much slower pace and they're tight enough to make that work really well. If you look up Zebu's own description of their sound, they simply say that they play "heavy shit" and that's even more accurate than southern metal. It works to my thinking because they're naturally heavy without trying to overdo it. There's a lot of bass here, for instance, which doesn't mean that they downtuned everything and pumped up the spectrum's low end but simply that the bass is audible and given plenty of opportunity to be heard.
I like how they don't have to try. This could easily have been heavier but it wouldn't have had close to the same impact. Zebu can play a song like Nature of Failure with riffs they know are heavy and vocals that are rough without quite becoming harsh, but they can drop into a mellow section without fear it will make people think they're going soft. That one's the most obvious, with clean spoken word vocals, but there are a few others dotted around, often in folksy intros like on Shattered Mentality or Keys to the Gutter, where it's not just an intro but bookends. They don't make this sound soft, they just make it sound deeper and more mature and it's a better and more varied album for it.
I'd throw the vocals of Kostas Synatsakis in here too. He finds an odd balance between clean and harsh that's rather palatable. There's definitely an influence from hardcore, but he sings rather than shouts and it works. The balance isn't entirely consistent and he certainly gets rougher on The Skin I Wear to balance with the guest vocal he's duetting with, that of Katerina Kostarelou, who appears to sing with a stoner doom band called Bacchus Priest. I didn't catch all the lyrics because I was often absorbed by the music but, however rough he gets and however close to harsh, he's always intelligible.
I like Zebu even though they don't play my subgenre of choice. I like sludge metal instrumentally but often, as with Thou, hate the vocals. That applies to a lot of hardcore too: I love the urgency of it and really dig the cover art that -core bands are finding, but the vocals usually leave me dry. I like stoner metal but I'm kind of digging stoner rock more nowadays, because it can play in psychedelia far more. I like groove metal but much prefer the thrash that it grew out of. As southern metal is all the above thrown into a blender, it can be hit or miss for me.
And this one's a hit. I wouldn't call Synatsakis a new favourite singer, but I certainly didn't dislike his style, even though I was ready to, and it works well with what the band behind him are doing. I'd call out the bass work of Alexis Korbis for praise, but guitarist John Roupaliotis is no slouch, handling all the guitars here on his own, and neither is drummer Nicholas Rossis. They're heavy, they're tight and they're reliable. Job well done. If this is your genre, you ought to really dig this.