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Zonal, "Wrecked"

cover imageJustin Broadrick and Kevin Martin founded Zonal in 2000 and, other than a very limited CDR release, saw the project falling by the wayside, surely impacted by the collapse of Broadrick’s Godflesh a few years later. During this time Martin reconfigured his solo project The Bug into a blown out dancehall/dub/grime project, collaborating with a multitude of different MCs and vocalists. However, the two decided to reactivate Zonal to specifically pick up where Techno Animal left off with 2001’s The Brotherhood of the Bomb. That lineage is clearly heard via the distorted beats and processed synths, and with vocalist Moor Mother joining them for the first half, it culminates into a brilliant and fresh, yet familiar sound that stands strong with any of the duo’s previous collaborations.


Guest appearances between the two aside, such as on The Bug’s Angels & Devils record, Broadrick and Martin did not collaborate at all during this post-Godflesh era, which was surprising given the number of projects they had together in the past:Techno Animal, Ice, Curse of the Golden Vampire, God, the Sidewinder, and Sub Species.It never seemed as if this was due to any bad blood between the two, simply that each of them busy with their own projects.So when it was announced that Zonal would be recording as the modern resurgence of Techno Animal, I was rather excited.

Techno Animal’s Re-Entry was a hugely impactful record for me.Starting from Godflesh early in high school, I navigated my way through as many Broadrick related projects as I could find in those pre/early days of the internet.Re-Entry was an important one, because it opened my eyes to how diverse and varied electronic music could be, beyond the Industrial/EBM stuff I had mostly been listening to and the dance music I did not care much about.The combination of styles and dense, unconventional production just clicked with me perfectly, and I still rank it among my favorite records nearly 25 years after its release.

Like most of the Techno Animal work that succeeded it, Wrecked is rather different.It retains the idiosyncratic production, but the density and distortion that was so prevalent on latter day Techno Animal is used more sparingly.The first half spotlights Moor Mother’s contributions, with Martin and Broadrick stepping back as producers.The full range of their styles is apparent here, with opening song "Body of Wire," featuring Moor Mother’s delivery more in spoken-word form, as the two construct expansive, ambient space in the background.Both vocals and music have equal billing, as a true collaboration should.

For both "In a Cage" and "System Error," that old TA feel is apparent immediately.The crunchy, snappy beats and grinding synths make it clear the duo have not missed a step.The former has a less structured and more experimental structure overall, while the latter is a bit denser and almost, at least in construction, along the lines of more conventional hip-hop.Throughout both Moor Mother’s vocals are exceptionally strong, effortlessly sliding from spoken word, passages of singing, rapping, and even a bit of reggae toasting."Catalyst" has a slow, open sound that feels nicely aquatic, like a nod back to their collaborations with Porter Ricks.As rich and diverse as the music is, Moor Mother’s combined sung/rapped vocals of gender politics and intersectionality are never overshadowed.

Overall, the second half of the record does not differ drastically even though it consists exclusively of instrumentals, with the most significant difference being more frequent shifts in structure that would have otherwise been overshadowed by vocals.The title piece builds strongly from a filtered crunch and what sounds like a broken drum machine keeping the beat."Debris" leads of with alien static and haunting tones that lurk below a slowly paced, but metallic tinged rhythms.The pacing and production makes me think dub, but the final product is quite far removed from the expectations of that label.

Just as on the first half, one of Zonal’s greatest strengths is that, even amidst all of the distortion, effects, and processing, they construct very catchy, memorable songs that subtly develop as they go on."Black Hole Orbit" is a thick mass of buzzing synths, filtered rhythms, and heavily treated electronics that nod back to latter day TA.However, even with all of these messy elements it is an extremely catchy bit of music that shows the songwriting that actually goes on here.The noise and distortion is right up front on "S.O.S." and the multiple layers quickly stack up into one of the most grimy, dense compositions on here.However, it quickly becomes apparent that there is a pleasant, lush melodic undercurrent buried under all of the dirt, which makes for a perfect counterpoint.

Considering the fluid nature of the Techno Animal project since its inception, from the industrial pummel of Ghosts to the dual hip-hop and ambient sounds of Re-Entry, the techno heavy Babylon Seeker, and then the progressively noisier beats that followed, I had no worry that they were simply going to tread old ground.Which is something they certainly do not do on Wrecked.The extremely varied talents of Moor Mother’s vocals make for a strong, unique first half, and their perfect synergy as far as composition goes stands out perfectly throughout the entire record.For something as I was as hyped to check out as Wrecked, the final product was something even better than I had hoped.

Samples Available Here.