London metalcore outfit ZOAX (not to be confused with Massachusetts punks and fellow caps-lock lovers HOAX) have been stirring up a considerable amount of attention from the UK metal press, following their celebrated debut EP XIII, and a series of ferocious live performances supporting noise rockers Baby Godzilla at the tail end of 2014.
With former Rise To Remain bassist Joe Copcutt at the creative epicenter of ZOAX, it’s easy to expect a brand of pummeling UKHC similar to his previous projects (or his current ones, like hardcore supergroup AxeWound); however, their follow-up EP Is Anybody Listening? moves the band in a far more melodic direction, showing the band beginning to flourish and experiment with new aural palettes. The 90’s emocore-esque loud/quiet dynamics are now permeated with atmosphere and texture, with expressive, glowing clean sections echoing Cynic, and a little of Devin Townsend’s lighter material, without any distracting technical intricacies. ZOAX have managed to achieve a duality between contemplative mood and tangible physicality replete with vivid imagery, much like the kaleidoscopic cover art.
Sadly, the band’s songwriting leaves much to be desired. This is a craft that ZOAX very much need to refine to complement their technical expertise. Many of the vocal melodies and instrumental transitions between clean and heavy sections feel far too disjointed and sluggish, with many of the song structures feeling like Frankensteinian mish-mashes of ideas that were never re-drafted or refined past the initial jam session. What’s even more perplexing is the that much of the EP’s content lacks the emotionally captivating edge from their previous EP. The climactic tension of ‘Bitter Angry Fake’ is absent in songs like ‘Click’, where the same magic seems far too artificial and trigger very little emotional response.
While ZOAX continue their touring regimen across the UK proving grounds, I worry that they’ll soon become victims of their own hype if they don’t start honing their craft. Still, Is Anybody Listening? introduces some interesting, refreshing new ideas, converging the realms of metalcore and indie rock even further, and serves as a satiating stopping-off point before the release of a more focused full-length.