Let’s talk metal seasons here for a second. You’ve got your classic Scandinavian black-metal bands speeding through endless winter permafrost; the autumnal sorrow of doom acts waiting for their time to die; and the lusty pagan metal that celebrates rebirth and beer and brotherhood in equal measure. Summer metal jams are harder to come by, which is why Zozobra’s second album, Bird of Prey, couldn’t have landed at a better time than early August.
Cradled by sky-valley grooves and streaked in shimmering mirages of guitars, Bird of Prey feels like it’s meant for cruising through the sun-baked deserts of New Mexico, the breeding ground for the Zozobra iconography. (The band name comes from an effigy burned annually in Santa Fe to represent the destruction of all worries.) A permanent fuzzy bottom end runs through the album like some stoned 800-pound bumblebee — clearly this is the work of a dude used to dwelling in the lower registers, namely ex-Cave In and Old Man Gloom bass man Caleb Scofield.
“Heavy With Shadows” and “Laser Eyes” are caked with shiny delay and flange effects for atmosphere, but Scofield and drummer Aaron Harris (Isis) know what we’re here for: It’s the riffs, and Zozobra pull off that peyote desert-rumble as good as anyone since Kyuss. There’s no chugging or palm-muting to be found on “Treacherous” and “Sharks That Circle,” just propulsive, fuzzed-out strums that slice ‘n dice, repeat a few times and hit the road. We get an appearance by Scofield’s excellent clean vocals on the Tool-like single, “In Jetstreams”; otherwise it’s all roar, all the time. It’s a treat to hear Harris break free of the mid-paced tempos preferred by Isis.
Tauter and simpler than Zozobra’s debut Harmonic Tremors (2007), Bird of Prey slides in comfortably between Torche’s last album and more trad stoner metal. It’s consistently engaging for its half-hour run time, and if it doesn’t resonate far beyond that, there’s always next summer.