REVIEW: Terraform – Zenith [EP/2015]


Artist: Terraform 

Album: Zenith – EP


The term zenith has many applications—it can be used synonymously to “apex” or “pinnacle,” it can be used as an astrological term (especially when applied to Earth’s lunar calendar), and it is now the apt title for Iowa-based progressive metalcore band Terraform’s latest EP. A stunning combination of beautiful, behemoth riffs and bone-grinding grooves, Zenith is a driving, engaging EP that sees Terraform at the peak of their performing capacity, as well as the peak of contemporary progressive music as a whole. Fluid, fast and catchy with just enough technicality to slacken the listener’s jaw and grating, visceral vocals to add a gritty, bitter finish, Terraform are a terrifyingly talented quartet that have the capacity to rearrange underground metal as we know it.

Not quite monotonous or djenty enough to be a true djent band, yet more atmospheric and ambient than their more brash, strictly-metalcore peers, Terraform are a tedious combination of progressive metal and skull-pounding hardcore. At Zenith’s core, percussionist Mike Schuler hammers away like a heart hyped up on a pound of crystal meth. “The Golden Ratio” sees him paving a ferocious path with furious kick drum patterns and flashy, fleet fills to fill every second of downtime—while “Zenith” and “Passing” see him thumping away at a sturdier, more predictable candor (while still giving the listener quick fills and fancy footwork to feast their ears on). Schuler’s drumming is a cement-cast foundation for bassist James Littleton to build from, molding and rearranging the earth around him with mammoth grooves and grimy, raunchy bass tones. Littleton’s snappy-yet-occasionally-sludgey bass works excellently with Schuler’s kick drum and booming, resonant toms to provide Terraform with a full-bodied low end—which guitarist Josh Solvedt can either harmonize with or use as a trampoline to launch his ethereal, energetic riffs skyward. Solvedt’s stellar fretwork is a fantastic combination of low, lurid chugs (heard at their best in “The Golden Ratio” and “Passing,” as well as the EP’s intro) and sly, skilled leads (aplenty in “Zenith” and “The Traveler’s Hymn”). Solvedt works beautifully both on his own and with Terraform’s earthy low end, making Zenith’s instrumental element diverse and devastating.

With musicianship that ranges from murderous to melodic, the link that Terraform need to keep Zenith focused is found in frontman Jake Olson. From the first words of “The Golden Ratio,” Olson excels with a predominantly low scream that dives into a grisly bellow or soars into a sky-splitting shriek when needed. Olson’s vocal element is analogous to Solvedt’s fretwork—it can fit whatever tone is implied by Terraform’s low end and has no issue keeping up with speeds fast, moderate or slow. “Zenith,” as well as the entrancing “The Traveler’s Hymn” see Olson at his best, both lyrically and vocally, with words that do the listener a favor by not being too out there, and intelligible-yet-intense vocals that give the listener a reason to listen closely. While, by the end of “Zenith,” the listener may grow weary of Olson’s beefy roar, Olson does a strong enough job of switching it up such that the listener doesn’t find themselves actively bored.

Terraform attack the listener with energy enough to level mountains and fretwork inventive enough to turn barren wastelands into blossoming oases. While brief, Zenith is a well-written, excellently played and masterfully produced display of progressive aggression that is more than just “another goddamn djent band.” Where “The Traveler’s Hymn” is catchy and bouncy, “The Golden Ratio” is a savage display of speed and sinister brutality that throws the listener head-first into a wood chipper. Even with solid writing, there is still room for Terraform to grow—as their anthems become predictable by the time the listener reaches “Zenith.” But even with the element of surprised minimized, Terraform still manage to make exceptional songs that keep the listener hooked—and while their latest EP is enough to reduce mountains to rubble, their next endeavor may be enough to truly shake earth to its core.



For Fans Of: Erra, Altered Perceptions, By The Thousands

By: Connor Welsh