Perhaps it’s something in the water (or, more likely, something in the smoke), but yet another musical project formed by former metal musicians has created a masterful jazz-inspired, soul, R&B, decidedly not-metal album. The band in question is Zelliack (a portmanteau of the two members’ first names, Zack [Ordway] and Elliot [Coleman]), and it is the sexy, loungy phoenix that rose from the ashes of metalcore/electronicore band Sky Eats Airplane.
Although many fans (me included) still mourn the loss of SEA, Zelliack’s “smoove” touch on Noir Tone EP, released Feb. 1, is more than enough to soothe the wound. Even though they are from such a different part of the musical spectrum, Zack and Elliot together again is cause for celebration (preferably with copious amounts of Cristal, or whatever the sexy-party crowd is drinking these days).
Zelliack was born of an impromptu jam session that took place backstage at a Sky Eats Airplane show between the two members, and the music flowed from there (for those interested, the session in question may be located on YouTube). The chemistry between Zack and Elliot throughout this five-song EP is truly remarkable – especially since said chemistry is palpable through a mere studio recording. But, sadly, fans may never see the group replicate this amazing meshing live, since Zack Ordway plays guitar (his main musical squeeze), bass and drums, and programs the electronic aspects himself. Elliot’s jobs are limited to creating and singing vocal melodies.
Still, with only two minds collaborating, it sure makes for a streamlined EP of – to use the old clich? – all killer, no filler.
Excellent though it is, what exactly does the EP sound like? Zelliack is, like all truly great, accomplished and challenging music, difficult to place in a box. Perhaps the most accurate descriptor is a cross between R&B and soul. In fact, listening to the group’s material is a bit like stepping through a time capsule to different decades of music, from the swing of the ’50s (the aptly titled “Call Me Old Fashioned”), to disco of the ’70s plus a bit of Latin flair (“Hargrove”), easy listening of the ’80s (“Without a Doubt”), R&B of the ’90s (“These Hands”), and jazz-tinged rock of the 2000s (“Autumn in Analog”). Every song brings something fresh to the table, which, in combination with the too-short length of the EP and its consistently stellar quality, makes it impossible to become bored at any point during the 22-minute runtime. Zelliack has created something special here.
While both Zack and Elliot are extremely talented musicians, Zack’s performance on the album is not technically challenging; the type of music they dance around has no room for bombastic shredding or ear-blasting drumming. Rather, the focus is on songwriting. Even the few guitar solos that grace the album are filled with emotion and only add to the song as a whole, rather than hog the spotlight.
Another possible reason for the somewhat reserved nature of the musicianship is the vocal presence of Elliot. Fans of metal or metalcore music will recognize Elliot from his vocal contributions to the aforementioned Sky Eats Airplane, Misha Mansoor’s (of Periphery fame) side-project Of Man Not of Machine, djent pioneers TesseracT, and frequent collaborations with Periphery and Haunted Shores. His voice has a somewhat feminine, operatic quality about it, and, while certainly not for everyone, the sound is gorgeous and a perfect fit for Zelliack’s music. Elliot explores the entirety of his range on the EP and dominates the clearly vocal-centric music while still contributing to, not outshining, the cohesiveness and balance of the song-writing.
As overused as this word has become in this review, “sexy” is the only way to describe the vocals that flood the listener’s speakers when playing the Noir Tone EP. The lyrics are fittingly sexy throughout the album as well, and fit with the retro, time capsule feel of the compositions. Unfortunately, the words that Elliot croons are the one low point of the otherwise stellar songs: Some of the lyrics reach a cheese factor of 15-year aged cheddar on a scale of colby to limburger and may cause listeners to cringe a bit. Still, if taken as an effect to keep the listener in the mood of the music, they are passable and even fun.
In a phrase, the Noir Tone EP is all about songwriting and emotion, which it displays almost effortlessly. Zack and Elliot are a match made in heaven for fans of immensely enjoyable music, as they prove time and time again on their first release together. Their musical output will be this columnist’s soundtrack to spring, and Zelliack had better get working on new material soon so I have a soundtrack for my summer.
4.5 stars out of 5
Regen McCracken (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior who intends to major in journalism. He has a love for video games, metal, jazz and all things that make one think. He also writes and performs his own music, while not writing these ever-interesting columns, or studying himself to sleep.