BLACK SYNDROME — Zarathustra (review)

BLACK SYNDROME — Zarathustra album cover Album · 1996 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Vim Fuego
Many Korean bands labour under the heavy burden of self-imposed inferiority complexes, and a desire to incorporate every new metal trend which happens along. Black Syndrome has always ignored what other bands were doing and carried on with a tried and true brand of laid back heavy blues and metal influenced hard rock. And on this album, Black Syndrome threw in a big dose of progressive rock too.

First track “Jump Up” might be a little off-putting, because it’s not typical of the rest of the album. It starts with a sample of Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes discussing Jimi Hendrix from the movie “White Men Can’t Jump”. The band injects a funky bassline, and stadium rock keyboards, like a new version of Van Halen’s “Jump”, but then they cover it in guitar solos.

Much of the album is instrumental. Rock bands often fall into the progressive trap of making instrumental songs boring, either by trying to do too much and becoming an excuse for musicians to show off, or by not doing enough, ending up as pointless prolonged jams. Black Syndrome avoids both. The songs are a reasonable length, and there is little self-indulgence.

Second track “As Time Passes By” is reminiscent of The Eagles’ “Duelin’ Daltons” mixed with a big dose of the Black Crowes. It is actually far more enjoyable than it sounds. The lyrics are Korean and demonstrate perfectly why a band should always sing in whatever language they are most comfortable with, rather than slaughtering English just because that’s what’s expected.

Their big hit “다시 사랑할꺼야(I Will Love Again)” used to be on high rotation on daytime Korean radio. It is a big acoustic ballad any cheesy glam band of the 80s would have been proud. The wailing guitar leads cry out for air guitar mimicry. It is a great song for bellowing along to while inebriated. No one will understand anything you sing except the title, the only line sung in English.

The cheesy cover of Guns n Roses version of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is a hilarious exercise in hard rock mimicry. The lead guitar hits Slash’s leads note for note, before breaking down mid-way through the song. Singer Yang Won Chan forgets the words after the first verse and just repeats “Knock, knock knockin’ on heaven’s door” for the rest of the song.

The title track is a three-part mini-symphony based on the Classical work “Thus Sprach Zarathustra”. Inspired by Richard Strauss, Italian Art-Rockers Museo Rosenbach, and Pink Floyd, it is a near masterpiece, staying down to earth and not falling into corpulent excess and masturbatory superfluity. “Overture” has a martial theme, building toward the second passage. “Also Sprach Zarathustra” sounds like something from an Emerson Lake and Palmer album, minus the horrible 70s extravagances. There is a strong synthesiser line, on which the guitars build layer upon layer of classical inspired leads. “The Sign Of Apocalypse” unsurprisingly, has a post-Apocalyptic feel of a cold desolate wasteland.

The laid back nature of this, Black Syndrome’s sixth album, makes it a perfect Sunday morning hangover cure. There are a variety of moods, and a number of styles, all executed expertly by seasoned professionals. The liner notes probably say it best, if not quite grammatically correctly: “They’ve put extraordinary effort into making this excellent album as good as possible…Put this on the player and groove! Every Rock maniacs will be ecstatic!”
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