One day a man was trapped out on a ledge – don’t ask why – with no way to get down except to jump. The fire trucks came and laid out a net for him, but he wanted something safer. They brought a pile of mattresses, but he still wasn’t satisfied. “Use the new Zodiac record!” he called down. The firemen nodded in understanding. What I’m trying to say here is that Grain Of Soul, the newest release from German metallers Zodiac, is one of the safest metal records you’ll hear all year. It’ s also one of the least German-sounding records you’ll hear all year. There is no Teutonic terror happening here, just metal-by-numbers songs to while away the summer nights. All it’s missing is a power ballad.
Formed in 2010, Zodiac play a competent, straightforward brand of radio-friendly metal. Nothing on Grain Of Soul will have you pressing the Next button, but at the same time you’ll never hit Previous either. Things open in a mid-tempo desert rock fashion with “Rebirth By Fire,” and you know right away these guys like the simple, catchy riffs. “Rebirth By Fire” is emblematic of the entire album in that it is average – below the great but above the bad. Second song “Animal” speeds things up considerably, and is the most aggressive song on the album. “Follow You” is wussy metal, clearly designed with the goal of getting some satellite radio airplay, but it illustrates the main problem with Grain Of Soul: nearly the entire record is the equivalent of a pail of vanilla ice cream. Nobody hates vanilla ice cream, but then again nobody asks for it in the parlor.
The only song that stands out is “Crow,” a bluesy acoustic-driven number that has a catchy riff, memorable vocal melody, and perky arrangement. Just don’t listen closely to the lyrics. “It was time for us to die, it was time for us to lie, and let the crow fly.” What does that even mean? Lyrics are a major stumbling block on Grain Of Soul. Not since the Scorpions albums of the 70s has an album had such uniformly silly lyrics. It’s hard to find a song that makes sense, in fact. One can pick any song on the record and find goofball lines. Let’s try, oh, how about the moderately catchy “Ain’t Coming Back.” “Nothing is forever, together we surrender for sure. There’s nothing to remember we are walking in the fields of the pure.” Huh? Honestly, it makes you wonder how well versed in English the band is.
Let’s be positive for a minute here, though. Zodiac are certainly competent musicians. The rhythm section (Ruben Claro on bass, and Janosch Rathmer on the kit) is tight throughout, whether on mid-paced numbers such as “Rebirth by Fire” or the faster “Animal,” and this goes for rhythm guitarist Stephan Gall as well. Certainly the most accomplished of the quartet is singer/lead guitarist Nick van Delft, who has a voice that suits the music and can also churn out some sweet lead licks. Grain Of Soul is also well produced in the modern sense, with a solid hi-def sound. Despite being mastered and squashed in keeping with the modern loudness fad, there is enough space in the songs’ instrumentation that ear fatigue never sets in.
Grain Of Soul is such a formulaic middle-of-the-metal-road record that it’s almost impossible to find anything that either stands out or sucks musically. It is safe, competently played, generic metal. The riffs are solid yet unmemorable. There are plenty of hooks to go around, but aside from “Crow” none of them really reel you in. The solos are tasteful but not mouth-watering. Nonsensical lyrics abound. “Follow You” is the worst song on here, and it’s not really that bad; just boring. If you’re looking for background music while you’re painting your house, this will work. Trust me, I’ve been doing it all week.