Zack Zack Zack Return With Album 2, Taking Listeners On A Gritty, Industrial Post-Punk Journey
On their sophomore record, the Vienna-based duo combines Western subculture with Eastern sounds and EBM influences.
The post-punk fusion phenomenon that is Zack Zack Zack is back with their second album, and it shows the evolution of a band that is truly comfortable pushing boundaries. Keeping the cryptically simple album titles, this time, they dive deeper into the early history of post-punk with a gritter, more industrial sound.
Simply named Album 2, the layers of creative intent behind the new record are clearly evident. Case in point – an interesting area for any band to play with is the track listing. In the digital age, the question of whether albums should be consumed as a whole or not – or in any particular order – becomes less and less relevant. Yet whether intentionally or otherwise, Album 2 is an album that from start to finish does its best to twist, turn, and leave cryptic hints of a unifying concept. As a result, there is none of the mid-album lag that bands often face, nor any imbalance from having all the best tracks at the beginning or end. Overall, this is a really strong sophomore from a duo that has pushed its sound even within the niche that they occupy.
So, it’s clear from the outset this is a bit of a different ballgame from Zack Zack Zack’s first release. The beginning track, “Yaradan”, is a harbinger of what’s to come. Distorted riffs that take center stage make this a tight and clever homage to the early days of post-punk. It leads the way for a surprisingly riff-driven album that is as dark and catchy instrumentally as it is melodically. And Zack Zack Zack is very good at doing a lot with a few simple lines and melodies that hover, growled, around the same few notes, before surprising you by veering elsewhere.
One of the best things about this Austrian duo – and other post-punk revival groups – is how they’ve explored broader artistic concepts in a deeper way than their influences often did. Crafting an album that ties together as a whole is part of this. However, combining new sounds is another way, and Zack Zack Zack first made headlines with their balance of Western subculture with Eastern sounds that are not often used in it. Formed by Yigit Bakkalbasi and Cemgil Demirtas in Vienna, the duo also operates as an art project and caught the attention of the music press with their striking single, “Bütün”, from their debut. The band’s sound features classic post-punk and darkwave that mingle with traditional Turkish instruments and melodies. This is the case in Album 2 as well, yet they continue to take the listener in new directions, with a great skill for knowing where their traditional roots best meet EBM and subcultural influences for the synergy of something new.
How do Bakkalbasi and Demirtas do this? Halfway through the album, in the gritty, synth-laden “Toprak”, the haunting sound of microtonal melodies from their Turkish influences cut through walls of fuzz when it is entirely least expected. Later on in the track, a tremolo-picked line hovers somewhere between Istanbul and the rough and ready, sonically empty wonderland of Surfer Rosa.
If Album 1 was a bold debut that pulled off something totally unique, Album 2 builds on its predecessor by exploring timelessness. With their distinct sound, this is an album that could be from many eras. Tracks like “Euro”, that sound like the early days of British punk or post-punk, provide a sense of upbeat rebellion towards the end of the album. This sits next to the gentler “Luftballon”, which plays with modern synthwave-inspired pop, while instrumental “Wein” gives a soundtrack-ready, melancholy yet wistful ending.
What might have inspired this boldness to push sonic boundaries? Zack Zack Zack was set up with a political consciousness. In fact, their name takes itself from an Austrian political fiasco that eventually saw the challenge of the country’s dominant right-wing factions. Lyrically, vocalist Demirtas sings in a combination of Turkish, English, and German, and regardless of which you may speak, they’ve summed up the spirit of their work through music alone. Perhaps it is this that contributes to the great following they have earned across Europe and abroad.
In the end, Zack Zack Zack didn’t have to do anything new with Album 2. Their niche is strong enough that even had they released something more similar to their first work, it still would have been a stellar album. Yet with a few subtle developments, they’ve managed to keep their sound fresh. With the addition of Sarah Hoffer on saxophone, bassist Kenny Can Aygün, and Rahullah Aziz on the kamanca – a bowed, stringed instrument – its obvious how much love and care has gone into making this next step. Ultimately Album 2 is an evolution the duo has come to organically – and the clever thing about its wordless storytelling is that it leaves space for the listener to imagine its next installment.
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Featured Image by Ilkan Sucullu