I never got into the modern zombie craze. Maybe I just had too much of it when I was younger: in high school I played the Gamecube Resident Evil reboots with religious fervor and watched more George A. Romero movies than was probably healthy, so by the time I hit my twenties and everyone around me was chattering incessantly about The Walking Dead and posting sign-up sheets for “dress like a zombie!” fun runs, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and feel like I was past all that. Thus, you can imagine my sentiments when assigned a promo from a South African band called Zombies Ate My Girlfriend. Not only is that moniker absolutely terrible, it blatantly panders to a trend that was stale two years ago – a trend that I never gave a shit about in the first place. However, as I learned with Calm Hatchery, a bad moniker doesn’t always equate to bad music, and so, with no experience with their prior work (2012’s Patient Zero EP), I put aside my bias and gave these Cape Town natives a fair listen.
Forming in 2010, Retrocide is Zombies’ debut full-length and exemplifies the type of not-quite-metalcore that used to perplex critics of The Black Dahlia Murder. As expected, there’s plenty of vaguely Soilworky melodeath riffs (the main cyclical motif in “The Spear” being a real standout), but there’s more variety too. Check opener “Appropriate Hate Crimes,” with its Alive or Just Breathing-style power chord chainsaw juggle, or early highlight “Burn the Scene,” carried by an infectious staccato chug. Breakdowns are scarce, though punishingly effective when employed – I imagine the conclusion to “Burn the Scene” would be a blast to witness live, and the end of “Jahan” is equally mighty. Zombies also have a love for opening with squealing, crawl-up-the-fretboard leads paired with stomping rhythms, best showcased in “Jahan” and “Retrocide.” I can practically see the sweaty hair whipping around circle pits.
Amidst the pummeling, Zombies possess both surprising chops and a unique wackiness. The solos on “Appropriate Hate Crimes” and “The Spear” are as good as anything I’d expect from their peers, while soft echoing clean picking on “Dead Russian” and closer “Hail the Disaster” showcase welcome dynamics. All is glued together in a zany assemblage of rock chord layering (“Cold Cuts”) and occasional spouts of snare-abusing near-dissonance, with vocalist Gavin Marchbank adding to the craziness with his mid-register, throaty scream that, admittedly, annoyed the piss out of me at first. Nevertheless, I will concede that he is versatile, occasionally lapsing into a deathy roar or phlegmy rasp at moments when the music goes haywire. It’s also moments like these the guitar tone really shines – while it does vaguely remind me of mid-00s alt metal, the piercing tone gives Retrocide a perverse, clinical feel.
So is it a miracle? Can a band called Zombies Ate My Girlfriend really be worth your time? Well, not quite. For one, many of these songs are way too long. Of the nine tracks, six of them exceed five minutes, resulting in a 47 minute runtime – definitely a tad overboard for a genre renowned for its bluntness. It’s no surprise that the shorter tracks like “Retrocide” tend to be the better ones, as even decent cuts like “Dead Russian” far outstay their welcome by the fourth minute. Still, the only total miss is “Maranatha,” a failed attempt at variety with its sluggish tempo and feigned “epic” vibe. The real problem, though, is that Zombies never seem to lunge for the jugular as their namesake would suggest. Even with fine headbob worthy moments, there are way too many bargain-bin metalcore riffs that should have been left on the cutting room floor when All That Remains discarded them in 2004. And while the production is powerful and balanced enough, the dynamic range definitely suffers.
Despite flaws, Zombies possess a certain passion and spark that intrigues me. While their sound is hardly new, their feel is invigorated and contemporary – I really wanted to joke about how this could have come from a mid-00s time capsule, but that feels sorely inappropriate. For hardcore fans of metalcore-tinged melodic death metal, this is an intriguing group that may be worth checking out. Me? I’ll definitely be interested to hear what they come up with next – but more so from curiosity than anticipation.