Zirakzigil – Battle of the Peak
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Sometimes cool shit just falls into your lap. After making the move to Portland, Oregon, in early April, I set about hitting the numerous record stores around town. I was already familiar with Jackpot and Everyday Music, the two big time local chains, as well as renowned hometown boutiques like 2nd Ave, Mississippi Records, and Crossroads Music. Hey, I may be new in town but I’ve spent a day or two in Portland thumbing through racks of vinyl on my previous trips here.
It wasn’t until last week that a coworker (who also happens to operate revered experimental label Beta-lactam Ring Records) clued me in on a little shop on a long stretch of road in Northeast. Anthem Records is the kind of place most morning commuters have probably driven right by without a second thought. Its door is tucked into a nook between two buildings, and even the bright neon sign shining the word “OPEN” is obscured by a jutting wall. This is basically Portland’s answer to the Aquarius and the numerous other one-room record stores around San Francisco.
After snapping up a few rarities (Fallen Empires’ beyond sold out SVN OKKVLT double cassette comp? Um, yes.) and local curiosities like the solo tape from Agalloch guitarist/vocalist John Haughm, I started chatting with the friendly shopkeep, Jon Aldente (AKA Jon AD). A few minutes of shoptalk go by and he plants a white sticker emblazoned with a futuristic logo in front of me, then clicks the play button on the Bandcamp page of his label, also called Anthem. “You’ll like these guys,” he says. “They’re sort of progressive doom, with some weird psychedelic touches.” Indeed they are Jon, and indeed I do. Apparently Zirakzigil (pronounced exactly how you’d think) is the recently launched brainchild of one dude named Charles who played in a few local black metal bands before getting weird with his new project. Apparently, he asked two of his cousins to come out from Virginia to play on the album. Apparently, the entire thing was recorded in his garage in one take, with no overdubs.
All of this makes Battle of the Peak’s pseudo-'70s hazy rocking that much sexier. Like much heavy music from that era, Peak is awash in Tolkien influence, albeit much more blatant then Zep’s passing nods to the LOTR series. The band’s name itself is a reference to the mountain upon which Gandalf fought the Balrog in The Two Towers, and the album and track titles allude to battle. Suitably, Charles storyboarded out each of the three sprawling compositions on his project’s debut album before putting them to tape, much like Haughm and Co. do with each Agalloch album, crafting the work in the manner of a novel or film more than a recording. Charles’ meticulousness shows. This is what Rush would sound like if they were an early-'00s Relapse band. Big burly riffs meet even burlier vocals bellowing all sorts of epic shit about wizards dodging fire and taming colossal hellbeasts. Somewhere around the halfway point of finale “The Endless Stair”, Charles uncorks a serpentine solo that would make Matt Pike weep over his First Act nine-string. The drumming is airtight, and only occasionally octopus-armed. Whoever's behind the kit keeps these 15+ minute long tracks on lock, flicking subtle specks of double bass at the lens to obscure the deep hard rock roots at play.
As if basing their entire progressive metal album around Gandalf the Grey wasn’t gloriously nerdy enough, Zirakzigil deserve a few pints of Barliman’s Best for housing each cassette copy of The Battle of the Peak in a plastic snapcase laid out exactly like a Super Nintendo cart box, complete with an instruction manual doubling as the liner notes. I don’t know what else to say. You know you need this.
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