Racebannon/Song of Zarathustra - Near and Far Volume 2 (Cover Artwork)

Racebannon / Song of Zarathustra

Near and Far Volume 2 (2002)


I remember back in those halcyon days of being a seventeen-year-old punk rock know-it-all who thought that Screeching Weasel was the end-all be-all of music making fun of my then-girlfriend (now wife)'s roommate's music. You see, this roommate was goth, and about as adept at that point at figuring out exactly what goth was as we were at figuring out what punk was. My wife's favorite piece of auditory gothosity to make fun of was her roommate's CD of airplanes taking off set to Nine Inch Nails-style industrial beats.

It's funny how much of my listening diet consists of the very music I used to make fun of a scant six years ago. Nowadays some of my favorite bands are people like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Joy Division and half the hardcore that I listen to brushes up against the kind of music I used to think of as tuneless slop. The tinge of irony apparent in all this struck me about six minutes into the first Racebannon track on this disc, "Waltz of El Diablo, Part I;" the "song" is a mass of industrial noise-squeaking, squealing gears, thumping pistons and grinding machinery-all somehow miraculously collaged into something I can still think of as music.

The structure I find in this structureless mess has a lot to do with the drumming, which serves as a road map for the rock-bound listener who wishes to navigate this cacophonous maze of sounds. As "Waltz of El Diablo, Part I" slides into "Satan's Kickin' Ya Dick In, Part IV" (no, I'm not making that title up) and the industrial machinery gives way to more familiar distorted guitars and breathily screamed vocals, hindsight finds even more patterns. The third track (an extension of track one called "Waltz of El Diablo, Part II") is consequently even more enjoyable than the first (and in some ways, the second), achieving the same cinematic scope and instrumental wizardry as the much-talked-about Godspeed You Black Emperor!

Racebannon's half of the split ends with the much anticipated conclusion of the "Satan's Kickin' Ya Dick In" diptych (Part V in case you're keeping score), which is another more rock-influence song that combines the musical ambition of City of Caterpillar with the straight-up weirdness of Mike Patton projects like Fantomas and Mr. Bungle. While the track never achieves the effortless grace of the former or the sheer wildness of the latter, it's still an intense and epic piece of work that fans of either band could certainly get into.

Gettin' Racebannon's back on this split are Song of Zarathustra, a band whom I had little information about other than a hearty recommendation from a buddy with great musical taste. Though the three tracks here are, in general, about 75% shorter than Racebannon's they still have an epic feel; Song of Zarathustra's tunes are equal parts Sonic Youth and Pg. 99 (or whatever ambitious screamo group you wish to substitute), so this is hardly unexpected even though SOZ are in no danger of tipping the track-length scales.

Like both of the aforementioned bands, Song of Zarathustra's music careens wildly between soft and heavy, technical math-rock jams and three-chord anthems, mellow finger picking and punishing riffs. However, running throughout all of these parts are an almost counter-intuitive catchiness; though SOZ are in no danger of getting picked up my commercial radio anytime soon their stuff will still be stuck in your head when the disc spins down.

While the two sides of this split record don't really hang together as well as classic splits like Faith/Void or Leatherface/Hot Water Music, as a collection of tunes Near and Far Vol. 2 is phenomenal. So if you're into hardcore bands like Neurosis or Converge who have an epic sweep pick this up, and maybe when you blast it out of your dorm room the quiet goth dude across the hall will want to be your friend.

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