If you've ever seen Chicago's CZAR perform live, the temptation to compare them to NEUROSIS and, to lesser degrees, A STORM OF LIGHT, is inescapable. This trio rolls their set with little illumination outside of white light flushes below and rolling projections of terror behind them. Yet, CZAR's music is and it isn't in the vein of NEUROSIS. Their static sculptures and vexing industrial minces put them in the same dirge art bloodline, but these guys have their own vibe that remind of MASTODON, QUICKSAND and even KNUT at times. CZAR embraces their terse ugliness and yet they shove a lot of their bleak arrangements into elevating, cathartic pastures. Following up their acclaimed debut "Vertical Mass Grave", the minutely stripped-down "No One is Alone if No One is Alive" is sure to hit hard with the sludge metal crowd and with damned good reason.
As before, CZAR operates with no bassist. Guitarists Brian Elza and Jason Novak stay in lower chunk keys and they milk the crap out of the deepest tones they can come up with. Viably, it's easy to forget to listen up for a bassist. Only when one or the other drifts out of the other's way does the absenteeism of bass become apparent. However, Elza and Novak are so evenly matched at creating hypnotic airs even in low keys they almost never sound naked. Drummer Dan Brill hangs on the edge at all times throughout the album, thrusting into grind patterns or gratuitous fills when called upon to spike CZAR's moments of fury, and yet Brill is also often the discreet ace up the band's sleeve.
"Whorchard" starts the album with a definitive statement by mixing between mid-tempo plods heaped with despairing riffs and sporadic increases of speed. Towards the rear section of the song, drenching gloom is supplemented by spooky electronics while the twittering guitars climb in pitch, creating a subtle window of hope through "Whorchard"'s heaping smog. The main rhythm of "Whorchard" carries straight into "Aortic Flower", which the latter banks on to get its stride before picking up the pace for a few bars. Quickly, "Aortic Flower" slows down and turns shivery with static-filled chunks and phlegm-choked vocals from Jason Novak. Grind beats mingle with moshing tempos and finally a steady crunch that allows CZAR to pour shrill sensory attacks through a mechanical synth and searing guitar strikes, all up to the brittle final note.
The skulking hardcore lines of "Black in Black" have reminiscent threads of QUICKSAND. The quickly-delved guitar scrapes on the song's breakdown sets up for an ethereal guitar solo and a hammering, emotive midsection that changes directions once again with scattering drum rolls and swelling agitation. Whereas "Aortic Flower" settles from its heavy outpouring, "Black in Black" pools and ultimately bathes in its scalding denouement. "Fuming Rotter" likewise stakes its course with a crashing poke pace ala QUICKSAND before chewing up their rhythm with gnawing choruses and a sinewy bridge. You literally feel CZAR tearing this song apart at cartilage's strain before letting it snap back into a compound groove.
Their clamorous cover of THE BEATLES' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" is the best metal-injected hike of the Fab Four since long-ago thrashers REALM summoned a tornado behind their insanely fast rip on "Eleanor Rigby". Here, CZAR sacrifices "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" upon a bloody altar of doom, lighting up portions with frightening black metal thrusts and gory pukes from Jason Novak. Kudos to CZAR for recognizing the potential for a nervy metal-up of this song. Those cumbersome rolling drags of the final section pitted by THE BEATLES was so stinking brilliant decades ago and CZAR is shrewd enough to run with those lines and turn their version into a brutal affair that hardly offends.
"Spitter Attack" is even more astute by effectively plotting a course in the same dynamic structure as "Whorchard" and "Black in Black". There's nothing redundant at work in "Spitter Attack", and it smartly hops tempos between punk bashing, black metal thrashing and ultimately, a blaring crawl that abruptly stops and leaves the listeners sitting on the brink. The nearly-cautious slink of "Megafauna" maintains a teetering sensation as CZAR sieve out their spiking rhythms incrementally. The guitars wail in spots, gouge divots in others and the song methodically builds momentum with Dan Brill's restrained double hammers that come in and out before sending the track home with a brief but terrific smacker groove. On "Priestess", a return of piercing coldwave frosts the song's jagged path and gurgling guitar furrows, emptying its icy spew into the numbing closer, "Empty Thrones".
Like KYLESA, CZAR have refined their dark sludge to assimilate the best elements of the scene around them and mold them into their own unique take. CZAR is a different animal than KYLESA, of course. KYLESA has the humid, sweltering South to propagate their crushing tension, while CZAR comes from a bipolar opposite cold territory northwards. Yet together they represent what's innovative and intrepid in American underground metal. By all means, CZAR is worth your invested time.