Zaäar – Magická Džungl’a Review

It’s no secret that I love Neptunian Maximalism. Since the Belgian collective’s 2020 debut, magnum opus Éons, I’ve been craving more. For better or worse, its disciples and side projects have since attempted to fill that whack-ass void. With the likes of Sol Kia, Ôros Kaù, Wolvennest, and even NNMM themselves making metal-adjacent free jazz, however, I’ve met nothing but vague disappointment. As such, the NNMM offshoot Zaäar fell across my lap from the increasingly bewildered Carcharadon, who saw this as his chance to get out before the latest Jumanji game resulted in too many swarming giant mosquitos.

Consisting of NNMM members Guillaume Cazalet (Czlt), Jean Jacques Duerinckx, Didie Nietzch, and Sebastien Schmidt, as well as new bassist Hugues Philippe Desrosiers, what makes Zaäar the best thing since sliced bread Éons? Put simply, Zaäar foregoes Éons guitar-driven drone in favor of an atmospheric free jazz album in the same vein of Sun Ra’s The Heliocentric Worlds… or Herbie Hancock’s Sextant. Conjuring humid and primordial atmospheres with stunning ease, you’ll be graced with sax/brass freakouts, dense synth soundscapes, and a wild array of folk instruments and percussion. If that’s your cup of tea primordial ooze, dive into the ancient world contained herein, but any hopefuls for the spiritual successor of the mighty Neptunian Maximalism, prepare to be disappointed.

As is the case of its mother project, Zaäar is bound to rub some the wrong way. Following a similar narrative as the apocalyptic Éons, six tracks move with the fluidity of water, as the backbone of dark droning ambiance allows saxophone and trumpet to explode with vigor and unpredictability. At times touching upon the darkest depths of the jungle, and others recalling the sunlit canopy, it never foregoes dampness, as each instrument feels weighed down by the humid sky and bent by the calls of its wild inhabitants. Instruments shriek and percussion thunks and clicks and shudders at its own volition. The closest that Zaäar gets to drone is in the patiently expansive fifth track “Explosion Cambrienne,” the overlays of noise and synth pads nearly horroresque, while its instruments emerge from the deep. In terms of complexity, Magická Džungl’a is unmatched: its songwriting as volatile as its dynamite performances, it shifts gears at will with no warning. Zaäar offers a masterclass of primordial atmosphere that recalls Neptunian Maximalism’s churning narrative.

However, Zaäar also offers a masterclass in balancing Occam’s razor of art and inaccessibility. While Éons felt intentional, its bizarre organicity ever-adhering to its epic storyline, Magická Džungl’a ends up feeling almost completely improvised (Solar Drone Ceremony’s main issue), as its movements have little rhyme or reason. Furthermore, with the tracks ranging from nine minutes to twenty-two, mental fortitude and expectation management is a must to sit through this ninety minute foray into the jungle. It unfortunately loses much of its dynamic power when droning guitars are removed, and it ends up feeling like a tragically toothless Neptunian Maximalism when the atmosphere overstays its welcome. In spite of rabid unpredictability, each track ends up sounding nearly identical: droning ambiance, jazz freakouts, and tribal percussion without the purpose to hold to. As a whole, Magická Džungl’a also in itself posits a necessary question: how avant-garde is too avant-garde? How much can an artist alienate listeners? I frankly do not have the wherewithal to effectively gauge the answer, and Zaäar’s effectiveness will depend on the listener.

I know that anticipating another Éons is foolhardy. Neptunian Maximalism was incredibly effective in their debut because of their willingness to stick to the overarching narrative and meet listeners where they are while challenging them to look further. Zaäar is admirable for its ambition to create a primordial and ancient feeling using a “less is more” aesthetic. Magická Džungl’a is an album that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do in evoking a mood, but its lack of dynamic and songwriting doom it long before the hour-and-thirty-minute mark is hit. The lack of drone is ironically concerning, and the end result feels more like a bland Great Value version of its mother project. While it certainly hearkens to an era of free jazz greats like Sun Ra, Herbie Hancock, and Miles Davis, it refuses to grant listeners any leeway, leaving our ears in avant-garde limbo. Maybe I just don’t “get it,” but I lack the desire and the time to do so.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: I, Voidhanger Records
Website: too, uh, jazz for the interwebz
Releases Worldwide: November 5th, 2021

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