SANZU – Like An Everflowing Stream
August 28, 2016, a year ago
Australian death metal group, Sanzu is often compared to Morbid Angel and Gojira (really the Morbid Angel comparison is all one needs as Gojira surely took influence from them), which is both a curse and a benediction. This comparison tells people what to expect; but also puts a limitation on their sound. The group really is quite forward thinking in their approach, especially lyrically. Their latest record, Heavy Over The Home, looks inward at personal issues in lieu of MA’s Satanic and Lovecraftian trappings. The group maybe less horrific in their stories, but musically the band is enveloped in pure brutality.
Heavy Over The Home is technically a year old, but the band has hooked up with Listenable Records to reissue it along with their Painless EP as a bonus. Both recordings were released last year. Vocalist Zach Andrews reached out from the opposite side of the Earth to tell us more about these recordings and history of this young group.
Bravewords: Heavy Over The Home was released in 2015 and now it’s been reissued through Listenable. How did you hook up with Listenable?
Zach Andrews: “I sent out copies of the album to a few labels the week of its releases. It was actually as we were boarding the plane to the first show of the album launch tour when I check my emails and we had a reply from Listenable. They really enjoyed it and we talked for a few months before signing onto the label. We were super excited to become a part of the family, I had heard of Listenable Records and listened to bands on that roster since I was a kid. So that was awesome!”
Bravewords: Why did you decide to revise the artwork? Who did the revision?
Zach Andrews: “I did the original artwork for the record and due to the situation of the time it was a bit of a rushed job, formatting the artwork to CD that is. Not the actual artwork, that took 6 months! So when Listenable asked if we could revise it in some form so that the re-release would differ from the original, I was happy to change it up, I felt like the second time around was a better job, not just the placement but I played around with the colors, It has a slightly stronger presence of blue, which I really like. A cooler feel. The original was more orange and felt dry.”
Bravewords: This version of the album also includes your Painless EP. Did you approach the LP differently than the EP? Do you see a progression in your music from the two?
Zach Andrews: “As far as writing work flow it was exactly the same, half of the album was actually written by the time the Painless EP was released. Then we just kept going and finished it up. There is definitely a progression between the two, both in a sonic sense and spiritually. A lot of big personal things happened to all members of the band in-between those record cycles, which both fueled and disrupted the LP process in interesting and dynamic ways.”
Bravewords: You released both the EP and full length in 2015. Why did you decide to release both in the same year?
Zach Andrews: “We knew we wanted to capitalize on the momentum after the EP launched and do something soon. But it wasn't until a month after the release, I found out I was expecting my first child. We decided we wanted to produce and release the full album as well as tour Australia before my son’s birth. Because after that point, I'd need a couple months to lay low and adjust to family life. It was an absolutely mental 8 months, luckily we had over 50% of the record banked, but the work schedule for everyone in the time became incredibly chaotic and we were firing on all cylinders and running on empty at the same time. It's something I feel we're still recovering from.”
Bravewords: What were the recording sessions like for the LP?
Zach Andrews: “Quite efficient! We all had home studios that we used for writing in first place which sufficed for vocals and guitars, but for the LP we put the cash down to hire a drum studio which is one of the major improvements between HOTH and Painless. Drums for Painless were recorded in Ben's [Stanley] tiny basement. We recorded the album in two parts. The first half was done early on in the process while we finished writing the rest. But between the two sessions, the drum studio we hired was flooded by a water main and had to close down for about 6 months. That was a fun curve ball. Luckily we got in another studio at the right time and the sound difference wasn't too apparent.”
Bravewords: Who produced the album? How do you feel about the production?
Zach Andrews: “George Lever of G1 Productions in England is the man behind the desk there. In fact he's someone I've worked with a bit in Sanzu and other projects and HOTH was our third record together. So George was someone I knew I could trust to help us reach our vision for the sound of both the LP and EP. For both records he talked to us daily via email/chat and helped us prepare our minds and recording environment without actually being there. It was a huge help and a definite advantage of working together on the two records so closely together is that George was also growing with us and progressing with us. We didn't run the risk of straying to far from what the EP had achieved because he had already built that. So we could spend energy just improving and refining.”
Bravewords: You took your name from the Sanzu River, which derives from Japanese Buddhism. It is akin to the River Styx in Greek mythology. Does your name reveal anything about your music or lyrics?
Zach Andrews: “Not too literally I don't think. You could say most of our lyrics follow a theme of change, growth and the conversion of energy and state, which is maybe the main structure that all the lyrics are built on despite their thematic.”
Bravewords: What are some of the lyrical themes you present on these two recordings?
Zach Andrews: “Both Jarod [Callow] and I have gone 50/50 on lyrics over both records so our themes and tonalities become quite varied. Which I really like, in most cases I enjoy singing his songs more. Each song is its own unique story and concept, but one key difference between the two I feel is point of perspective. Painless tends to be talking about external problems and realities. Heavy Over the Home is very much internal, looking inward and deconstructing time, mental presence and emotions. The LP's opening song 'Old Orchard Floor' was about being frustrated with the burden of creative dreams or aspirations. Following your dreams, no matter the direction or purpose, is hard work and can in some moments become extremely trying and dark. That song is basically asking myself the question of 'What if I didn't commit to this aspirations' and lived a simpler more standard life? It was written from a time where I felt my selfishness in self-improvement and development was taking a massive toll on my family. ‘Variant Red From Painless’ is probably still one of my favorite pieces that I've written. I was using stars as an analogy for the vastness and intricacy of people. When viewed from afar, it is easy to assume them to all be the same, but obviously we're are infinitely different and we all offer value. That was the main message there.”
Bravewords: Your vocals are a mix of the higher (not too high, this isn’t power metal) pitch variety for death metal and the usual death growl. Your vocals are quite discernable, too, though, something that isn’t always a part of death metal. How do you feel about bands whose vocalists are completely undecipherable? Do they loose something upon their listeners?
Zach Andrews: “When I started learning vocals I was listening to bands like Korn and Slipknot. Most of the nu-metal stuff. In most cases they were really discernible vocalists and I enjoyed the delivery of power and articulation. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I moved into the heavier realm and found death metal. It did take me a while to adjust to the difference in vocals but I grew to love it. When I started doing music I wanted to merge the two. I wanted that power and aggressiveness, but I didn't want to compensate for precision and delivery of lyrics, it was important. I think half the fun is deciding when to relax the other. There are parts where I forgo pronunciation for the sake of a stronger more 'brutal' voice or vice-versa. That back and forth play is the art of screaming for me. BUT I do not mean to say that's how it should be, that's merely what I try to aim for. I really enjoy bands that do lax on pronunciation for the grand effect. Vocals aren't always a lead, sometimes they are just part of the fray, part of the texture. It's really down to the band taking a risk and sticking to their choice of delivery and trusting that the listener will recognize that.”
Braveword: Metalsucks likens your music to Gojira and Morbid Angel. How do you feel about those comparisons?
Zach Andrews:” It can create conflicting emotions, to be honest. It is absolutely flattering and to be compared to and hear things such as 'if you like Gojira, then you'll like Sanzu' is pretty awesome. It gets a lot of people looking our way, but it does sometimes become frustrating when you really just want to be as you are and to be seen as that. There have been hundreds of articles and interviews about us and maybe just 1 has not mentioned those bands. But of course, it’s obvious that they are some of our influences and there's no hiding from that. Some people also take it the wrong way too. If the media makes that comparison then the viewer has something specific that they expect. They may not give it a chance before writing you off.”
Bravewords: Sanzu plays death metal with a nod to the legends of the genre, but manage to remain unique. Who are some of the bands that influenced Sanzu?
Zach Andrews: “We all personally have our own mixed bag of influences that we bring into the mix. Myself, things like Dillinger [Escape Plan], Devin Townsend, lots of non-metal music too. Obviously Gojira and Morbid Angel were the foundation of influence in the beginning, but there is actually quite a lot that gets brought in.”
Bravewords: How did Sanzu form? Was it difficult to find the right members to play this type of music?
Zach Andrews: “I’m actually one of the newer members. Jarod and Mike [Hart] were friends from university and formed Sanzu then brought Ben in on drums. They jammed and wrote for a year. They tried out other bass players and a vocalist but they didn't end up working out or had to commit to other projects. I met Jarod playing video games online and I was actually living 5 hours away in another city. He gave me the offer to do a guest spot at the first show with their current vocalist at the time, but I ended being offered the gig full time and I jumped on it. Packed up my car and moved two weeks later. We played for about a year before finding a bassist and Fatima [Curley] approached us at a show and asked if she could try out. She's been with us since and it definitely feels like that the group we have now is the defining combination.”
Bravewords: Is there a strong death metal scene in Perth, Australia?
Zach Andrews: “Surprisingly yes. We’re one of, if not the most, isolated city in the world, and we have metal gigs across all sub-genres going each weekend. It's a very healthy scene that supports itself.”
Bravewords: Does Sanzu often play live? What are some of your favorite shows/tours?
Zach Andrews: “We used to play a lot locally. Almost every two weeks for the first year or two. Now it's only about once a month. We try to space it out and not over saturate. Both of our record release parties are some of the best shows we have played. Fans support the hell out of us and party; it’s astonishing and humbling. Aside from that, supporting Deafheaven and Suffocation were amazing experiences.”
Bravewords: What’s next for the band? Do you have any touring plans? Are you working on new material?
Zach Andrews: “We're travelling over to Brisbane in early September for Australia's biggest Music conference BigSound, which I'm super keen for—three days of conventions, talks and workshops and two nights of 150 bands over 15 venues in the city. We were very lucky to be asked to play, so that's a huge and nerve-wracking honor! The day after that, September 10th, we are going to Adelaide for an awesome Australian death metal fest New Dead Fest. Aside from that we are trying to get on more tours. New music is brewing, but it's too early to give anything away!”