- Zodiac Sutra, Sickness, Then Love
I knew a college professor once who would grab students by the shoulders and exclaim, "Don't you know that you're on the hero's journey?" Considering it was a transpersonal psychology class and most of these students had just gotten high in the parking lot, none of us exactly felt like we were Luke Skywalker or Mulan. But his point was still valid. Even without secret caves or lurking wizards, our lives are epics nonetheless. That's easier to see when you document your own story.
Enter Sickness, Then Love, the second album from Vermont's Zodiac Sutra. In an email, mononymous singer and guitarist Wolf explained that the album details events that happened in his life over a four-year period. The recording forms the middle part of a trilogy called The Ephemeral Triptych. The first part was 2020's Bored Under a Bad Sign, and the story will eventually culminate with The Grand Trine: A Feather Purpose in Three Acts.
If it all sounds a bit heady, even overwrought ... well, it is. If you spotted these titles in a record store, you might assume they were progressive metal records, or maybe the scores to unforgettable '80s films. Yet, as on their debut, Zodiac Sutra are hard to pin down. Joined by his fellow pseudonym-loving bandmates — Raf on bass and Tops on drums — Wolf continues telling his life story over a mishmash of styles.
"Vermont" continues Wolf's series of songs about the places he's lived during this period; the debut album featured "New Jersey" and "Oklahoma," and Sickness, Then Love contains an ode to his current digs, as well as "Alabama" and "Hawaii."
Over a sleazy, massively distorted guitar riff, the band settles into a time-signature-shifting rhythm so atonal that it sometimes borders on full microtonal metal. Then Wolf wades in with his searching baritone, reminiscent of Type O Negative's Peter Steele.
"There's a monster in my closet and he won't come out / There's a serpent in my garden and she won't slither out / Allah Akbar," Wolf croons. Shockingly, these lyrics are some of the record's most normal.
It's not all sludge and math rock, though; the band excels at moody atmospherics. "Cranberry Moon," a haunting acoustic number, features a singing saw played by Silver Bridget's Johnnie Day Durand. The gentle, romantic number transitions into "Black Cherry Red Split on Bone White Tile Floor," an unabashedly funky track that showcases just how seamlessly the band can move between styles.
One of the things that plagued Zodiac Sutra's debut record was an overdose of eclecticism. The talent on display was impressive, but the record was a bit of a slog at times. If anything, the band has doubled down on its latest offering with flashes of folk, bits of reggae and hints of pop. Even its heavy tunes rarely manifest in the same idiom. Hell, listening to "Peach Blossom" could convince Phish fans that Zodiac Sutra are a jam band.
This bold approach yields some cool songs. But as a complete volume, Sickness, Then Love is a tough hang. And yet, as a document of the songwriter's "hero's journey" — his struggles and the peaks and valleys of life — the album also possesses a fitting verisimilitude. Check it out at zodiacsutra.bandcamp.com.