Dan Scanlan patiently sits, sunken into the earth-tone-colored couch in the control room at Living Room Studio on Atlanta's West Side, drumming his tattooed fingers along to the cacophony pouring from the speakers. To his left, bassist Brent Anderson and Zoroaster's roadie Nick Hood are weighing their options for food on a rainy March afternoon: Wendy's or Taco Bell? Producer Sanford Parker and studio owner/engineer Ed Rawls stand side by side, hunched over spinning reels of pitch-black analog tape, listening with rapt attention. And then: Click. Silence. They've found the cue.
With a nod Will Fiore shuffles into what was once the dining room of this house-turned-recording studio, guitar in hand. He sits on a wooden folding chair, plugs in and starts strumming the ominous chords of a song called "Old World." Everyone is lost in his own headspace, and when the tape starts rolling again, Anderson reaches across the couch with a green porcelain dish of what looks like dead potpourri. He jostles the brittle brown debris in his palm and gestures toward me, "Want some mushrooms, dude?"
Over the last year, Zoroaster has been busy trimming the fat off of its epic sludge-metal mantras, while honing the blueprint for Matador (released Tues., July 13), the band's third album and its major label-subsidiary debut on E1 Music. In the process, the band's songs have become concise, tightly structured numbers that rein in the tendency to get lost in the dirge. Cleaning up the its act for an album that bares the mark of a major label sounds like a familiar tale. But stripping things down only fleshes out the band's raw power.
It's the dog end of a 10-day marathon of recording. Most of the heavy lifting is already done. Drums were recorded at Glow in the Dark Studio across town and now Parker — a rising name in the realm of metal producers (Minsk, Pelican) — is flying home to Chicago in a few hours. Time is of the essence.
When Fiore emerges, its Parker's turn to let loose on a Minimoog, twisting knobs, creating beads of noise and sonic texture that will be woven into an improvised number titled "Firewater," which sounds reminiscent of Zoroaster's 2009 album, Voice of Saturn.
Mention of the similarity brings concern to Scanlan's face, as he takes me on a ride to Wendy's. While sitting in the drive-thru he explains that Matador is designed to be a much different record. "Most of the songs are three to five minutes," he says. "There's nothing too sludgy about it."
His admission comes as a shock, considering that Zoroaster has built a name on mammoth, psychedelic metal. But growth always has been a part of the band's trajectory.
"We could keep doing sludge until we're blue in the face, but we've always tried to do it differently from one album to the next," Scanlan says.
Matador is littered with concise writing, a giant leap from the droning ambiance of Voice of Saturn. "Black Hole," a dirty, high-energy grind, recalls the simple plod of the group's '07 album, Dog Magic. "Odyssey," Matador's first single, sets a tone for the record's up-tempo, melodic thrashing.
Other songs on the record have been around since the band formed back in 2003. "I'm a slow writer," Fiore says. "Sometimes it takes me 10 years to write a song. There are always songs in my head, but I won't be able to focus on them, so they stay there until one day, three years later, I'll realize how to end one of them."
"Ancient Ones" revives "Elders," one of the first songs the group ever recorded. It returns finely tuned with a strong sense of rhythm. Likewise, the album's title track, which used to be played as a 25-minute song, has been whittled down to seven-and-a-half minutes.
Another one of the group's assets is the Terminal Doom label that Scanlan and Fiore founded to co-release Zoroaster LPs with other labels, including Southern Lord and Relapse. Terminal Doom will remain unaffected by the new alliance with E1. "They just want the new record," Scanlan says. "We turned down a few labels before we signed with E1 because [the other labels] wanted to restrict us, but weren't offering anything we haven't already been doing on our own," he adds.
"Sure we're nervous about not having the control that we used to have, but it's exciting. I mean, we're here in the studio that we've always used, but we've got Sanford Parker producing our record, and we couldn't have made that happen on our own."
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