Other than having incredible drummers, you might think there’s not much uniting Zu and Guardian Alien. One plays aggravated, hyper-surgical jazz-math rock, while the other creates fluid psychedelic universes that discard all structure. Yet even if Zu can be defined as the brutal yang to Guardian Alien’s more tranquil yin, witnessing the two groups at Geneva’s Cave12 on a humid Friday night revealed they have more in common than initially meets the ear. Namely, they know their shit when it comes to amalgamating chaos and control.
This sounds unlikely at first. Unlikely, because from the beginning Zu’s onslaughts were tightly wound and rigidly partitioned into dogmatic architectures, laid down by a tyrannical rhythm section that includes new drummer Gabe Serbian (also of The Locust, Cattle Decapitation, Holy Molar, and the recently reunited ‘supergroup’ Head Wound City).
The Italian trio’s execution (probably as good a word as any) was vastly more precise and meticulous than is proper to expect from a band dealing in such ridiculously loud volumes, with the imposing Goodnight, Civilization’s new material leaving the crowd without any room for maneuver. But even with this almost totalitarian level of accuracy and domination, it became apparent over the course of the 40-minute set their systematic aggression has one aim: the liberation of an unbound emotional response, which in my case involved going fucking mental during rampant versions of “Carbon,” “Chthonian,” and set-closer “Ostia.” This is why, throughout the relentless assaults, Luco Mai’s baritone sax flurried wildly over the mechanistic rhythms deposited by Serbian and Pupillo, in the end providing visceral evidence that wherever extreme rationalization takes hold extreme irrationality is nearby.
And it was with much the same paradoxical balance between awe-inspiring discipline and anarchic liquidity Guardian Alien took to the intimate Cave12 stage. Appearing as a three-piece of Greg Fox, Alex Drewchin, and Alex’s brother, Silas, the New Yorkers streamed through a playlist that reconciled expansive, freeform electronics with intense percussive athleticism and reworked sections of “Spiritual Emergency” and “See the World Given to A One Love Entity” into blends of metaphysical static undercut by torrential drumming.
Edges were blurred to the point of nonexistence as the crew’s gadgetry buzzed and oscillated restlessly from one plastic state into another, Fox’s long-suffering skins an aural blur of ceaseless change. As the night’s soupy rendition of “One Love Entity” burst into an all-consuming finale, and as Drewchin repeated the echoing chant of “All things one thing” with an increasing mania, the haziness of the band’s music — the lack of clear boundaries between one gurgling noise-cluster and the next or one amped paradiddle and the next — revealed itself as the perfect complement to their universalizing philosophy, denying the separateness of every musical note just as the band themselves deny the separateness of everything those notes could be said to represent.
I wasn’t the only one in awe of Fox’s drumwork, so forceful and loose, and how the threesome improvise the multifarious sounds of the universe’s necessary oneness, since the receptive Geneva crowd managed to coax the trio into performing an unplanned encore. Despite being an afterthought, this encore became a high point; not only were we treated to an unheard work that exploited a reverb’d, staccato guitar pulse to engender an eerie and unsettled atmosphere, but Fox also confirmed his subscription to his own worldview by carrying his snare into the crowd, where he and the two Drewchins became one with us all. Well, at least until we all left and went home.
[Photo: Baron von Kissalot]