Review: Z(erpents) – Black Mold and Hot Springs, Taipei (Future Proof, Sep 21)

I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting from Black Mold and Hot Springs, Taipei, but it wasn’t this. This album is pretty damn weird, let me tell ya. Composed of musicians from Rhode Island, my own state of Ohio, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, along with Taichung-born, LA-raised guitarist Paul Lai, the new-ish Z(erpents) quintet is multinational on multiple levels. Despite the great distances between the members, all five congregated in Taipei to record the LP’s seven tracks live in studio. While all the material was spontaneously improvised, drummer Joseph Mauro contributes… some semblance of conventional rhythm to the cacophony at times, occasionally reminding me of the incendiary free-rock of jazz-originating bands like Last Exit or Arcana—but not quite, because when beats do surface here they are broken, battered, frequently knock themselves out of and back into time, stumble and scramble sloppily to a nonexistent finish line. Tempering the hyperspeed percussive tremors is the angry, confrontational saxophone playing by Xiao Liu, an eclectic and virtuosic stream of fiery solo licks, atonal screech and stab, and ear-splitting holds. It’s anyone’s guess as to what the hell is going on in “Flotation Divides,” the 24-minute opus that closes Black Mold; it’s an ambitious track that demonstrates the glorious, noise-drenching onslaught that has been threatening to break through the entire time, not a quiet moment with relentless fills and temporary odd meters, out-of-place synth melodies that end up transforming the entire structure of the piece, what I think is the vicious bowing of an upright bass along with guitar that swaps between shred and swirl at the drop of a hat. Just after the halfway point, the track suddenly falls apart at the seams, splitting into large disparate pieces and climaxing with an awe-inspiring abstract vocal performance by Swivel. Harrowing but truly life-affirming stuff.