Does anyone still give a shit about zombies? Apparently the creators of the next Resident Evil game are wondering how they’re going to “make zombies scary again,” and that concern is a direct reflection of the cultural over-saturation of zombies that’s occurred in the last decade or so. Thus, when I first saw the name of South African quintet Zombies Ate My Girlfriend, I rolled my eyes so hard I saw my brain. Yet when I actually listened to their 2015 debut Retrocide, I surprisingly didn’t hate it, although their brand of core-informed melodic death metal was still a little rough around the edges. Nonetheless the band’s animated riffing and general craziness made me intrigued and curious to hear what they’d spew out next.
And fortunately, sophomore full-length Shun the Reptile maintains these qualities while featuring better riffs, improved songwriting, and heightened maturity. Stylistically, little has changed since Retrocide. Zombies still classify themselves as “modern metal” and still sound like a weird amalgamation of metalcore, groove metal, and melodic death metal. Many of these songs pounce forward on bouncy groove riffs that (much as it pains me to say) call to mind what I’ve heard of DevilDriver. There are also many melodic death metal riffs worked in, along with sharp abrasive chords and ripping melodic solos. Combined with ample blast beats and vocalist Gavin Marchbank’s crazy gargled rasps, the overall effect is like a heavier, groovier, and wackier version of The Black Dahlia Murder.
It works a lot better than you’d think, a lot of which is due to the writing. Songs often follow a rough verse-chorus template that’s then embellished with fun little forays. Factor in the many notable riffs and the result is eight memorable tracks that say their piece and leave in a tidy forty minute runtime. Opener “The Worst Is Yet to Come” is a great example of Zombies at their best, combining slick melodic riffs with streaming leads, groovy verses, and a chorus that features a sweet melodic embellishment. With a closing melody that literally sounds like a ticking time bomb, it’s a great track that sounds like a cartoony version of Unearth. “Nothing Can Save You” continues the excitement with a jumpy main riff that sounds like it’s about to hop right out of your speakers, while “Immolation” moves from a killer djenty groove into a charging passage that resembles thrash metal.
The core music is good on its own, but Zombies make it even better with their zany attitude and injections of variety. Check the pseudo-breakdown of aforementioned “Save You,” which features a squawking lead that sounds like the guitarist’s best imitation of a trumpeting elephant. Likewise, Marchbank’s rasps possess a lot of personality, while “Autoriot” and closer “Icarus” feature welcome moments of smooth clean singing. “Van Eck” is its own stylistic foray, as it’s essentially a pure melodic death metal song with strong enough riffs to make it one of Reptile’s best tracks. Through it all the modern production offers a vibrant sound stage, with a terrifically lively drum sound that will make you want to break out your air drumming skills.
Sure, there are issues – the first half is better than the second, “Go Fuck Yourself” is a pretty forgettable track, and closer “Icarus” isn’t my favorite—but in all Reptile is a big improvement over the debut. While maintaining their weird identity, the band have tightened up the songwriting, written more memorable riffs, and in general made a more enjoyable album. Even with a sound that’s hardly new, Zombies Ate My Girlfriend possess such a sense of wackiness and liveliness that they still feel fresh regardless.1 Though I’m sure the groove metal and metalcore inclinations will scare some away, those with an open mind will find Shun the Reptile an exciting listen from a band that no doubt has a bright future ahead—even if the zombie craze itself is rotting six feet under at this point.