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Zero Degree: Surreal World
Melodic Death Metal
Massacre Records (2012), Self-release
October, 2010 / March 23rd, 2012
Release length: 50:38
Do you remember the days when the Melodic Death Metal movement had started picking up pace and was largely refered to as Gothenburg Metal? You know, that early Gothenburg, Sweden sound where bands like In Flames, Beyond the Embrace, and countless others approached Carcass and At the Gates with a simpler, more melody refined foundation that set the style into a simplistic whirlwind of bands wanting to emulate it by regurgitating the same speed, foundations, and even patterns to the point where it all imploded on itself to the point where now even the pioneers of the genre don’t even write new material for? Yeah, that Gothenburg style of music. Well, those days appear to be back, but in a good way. Now that it had time to cool down, Zero Degree revisit that period of time with their self-released debut album Surreal World, which was picked up for mass distribution through Massacre Records in March of 2012. But, is this independent effort really the throwback that revives the fondest of memories, or one that evokes the worst of them and instead should be a throw away recording?

For an independent recording, Surreal World sounds great, a growing trend among unsigned acts that is quite pleasing. The production has a nice level of clarity to it that gives a modern sound to the rather heavy material. Given the sleek and simpler sound of the style being utilized here, it works perfectly. The drums stand out well with cymbals that have a nice ring to them when hit, standing out with a lighter tone that’s not too overbearing. The snares have a nice thickness to them that radiates through the mix and meshes nicely with the natural bass kicks that have a slight click that boasts little studio interference to it’s recorded output. The guitars are often on the cleaner side, even during some of the heavier moments, and while it doesn’t necessarily help in the concept of aggression, it fuels just enough of an edge to go along with the subtle supporting bass performance and it’s deeper tones. The gutturals have a higher pitched roughness, not quite going into rasp territory, but a mid-ranged growl instead of the deeper, more primal approach you would expect. There are occassions of clean singing as well, but like everything else aside the melodic riffs, they are used in moderation.

For the most part, Zero Degree really transports the listener back to the early nineties style of Melodic Death Metal, but here and there things do change a bit for the sake of variety. “Grapes of Wrath” becomes one of the fastest and most aggressive offerings next to “Tomorrow Dies Today.” The chorus is infectious with clean singing and lower growling amid some slightly more complex chords than on other songs. The rest finds a heavier bass presence that fills in the background superbly against the melodic lead riffs, capturing an energy that can be immediately felt. Of course it does slow down later on to a much more atmospheric and even beautiful guitar solo, but it does fit and transition in and out well. “Whispering Age” is a lot slower and even more reliant on melody, but also on emotion. The song just drips with passion throughout, and the only fault is that the harsh vocals don’t quite match the environment being created. Again, the guitar solo slows down like with “Grapes of Wrath” and tries to be more moving then that somber and reflecting material before and after.

But that really sums up the more unique offerings. “The Door to the Unknown” does seem to go along with the atmospheric sense of “Whispering Age,” but acts as a suitable introduction to “Tomorrow Dies Today,” a largely traditional Gothernburg-era Melodic Death Metal style with simpler hooks that latch deep into the listener’s senses. The drums push the edge of the music further than the cleaner distortions manage, and some more Dark Tranquillity style riffs do litter the main verses for short amounts of time before shifting into some chugging chords before a strong and energetic chorus. “The Storm and the Silence” is another exceptional track worth mentioning, using infectious background melodic hooks to the group’s adventage when it comes to the slower, tighter verses. But, once the music picks up in richness, as well as speed, you’ll instantly start banging your head harder. The only gripe is that this one definitely lasts too long, and by the three minute mark the traditionally safer material starts to lose it’s bite. “Surreal World” isn’t too different, than these and many others, but shows why this is the title track to the release thanks to the many somewhat “epic” elements, especially around the chorus. When not catering to that richer kick, the material can be less enthusiastic than others, something “Frozen Alive” and “Virus” also suffer from unfortunately, but still manage to weave a catchy track that you’ll find yourself gladly bobbing your head along to.

In the end, Surreal World feels more like a mixture of solid and aggressive material, but largely composed of safe yet classic Gothenburg style Melodic Death Metal that can sometimes get boring or drawn out, but aside one song that will have you reaching for the skip button, you’ll still come back to them. Hints of At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity, and even modern Hypocrisy can be found throughout the release, but all handled with the utmost respect to the earliest days of the style. Even when the music isn’t at it’s best, Zero Degree manage to make the most out of them with simpler chords that offer addicting hooks that fans will simply eat up. Surreal World easily would have been an overlooked underground gem that wouldn’t get the attention it deserves if not for being picked up by Massacre Records, but since there’s no real major distinctions between the two as far as what is offered on each pressing, either version becomes a must own.

01. The Door to the Unknown – 0:53
02. Tomorrow Dies Today – 5:11
03. Frozen Alive – 5:04
04. The Storm and the Silence – 5:17
05. Grapes of Wrath – 5:41
06. Whispering Age – 3:54
07. Virus – 5:10
08. Disease – 5:08
09. Surreal World – 5:03
10. Where Angels Die – 4:09
11. The Dog – 5:08
Overall Score: 9/10

Digital review copy of this release provided by Massacre Records.
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