Zero Hour, an unfortunate casualty of Progressive Metal Darwinism

Back when I was younger, I went to an indie film festival in Atlanta and saw this movie called Zero Day. It was a fictional tale of a school shooting, pretty much based on Columbine. These two psycho kids plot a shooting spree on the first day the low temperature for the day is 0°. I mean, spoiler alert, BUT: the temperature never even hits 0°, and they're just like "well fuck it, let's go today". Kind of impatient, in retrospect! But anyway, this was pre-9/11 and Columbine was one of the saddest things that happened in my lifetime up to then. You couldn't really talk about it yet. Like, imagine if the WTC movie came out even sooner, like in 2003.

I loved all the bands that the Columbine kids did; I mean, I loved industrial groups like NIN and KMFDM, and RAMMSTEIN still makes me smile. I always thought of metal as an outlet for my dark side, so I don't understand why that wasn't enough for them. They should've started a metal band. In metal, you can be kind of nerdy. Noone cares.

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Enough rambling, though! ZERO HOUR are definite metal nerds, who grew up in the shadow of DREAM THEATER. Prog-metal band from San Francisco, formed in '93. Hell, they probably formed right after Images and Words was released. Zero Hour specialize in mathematically precise tunes with weird time signatures. I saw them way back in the day, when they were the very first band to play at ProgFest III, a small, two-day progressive rock / metal festival. I'm pretty sure they were the ONLY American band that played the the festival! Hell, even Devin Townsend was from Canada! I was pretty excited to see them, since I had downloaded albums from every band, and The Tower of Avarice happens to be a really awesome for a debut album.

These days, ZERO HOUR's brand of metal sounds a bit flat, and the tunes from that album don't have a lot of depth to them. I recommend the tracks "The Subterranean" and the 16-minute epic, "Demise and Vestige". The most memorable part of the last one happens right at the 10:00 mark. But, oh man, you've got to get through a lot of riffage to get there. This band was really abusing arpeggiation throughout that album, and sometimes I imagine this guitarist started sneaking his finger exercises into these songs.

I completely forgot about these guys for a long time, and just discovered that they've put out a handful of albums since that show. They've gotten a bit better, but it's still nothing phenomenal. During the early 2000s, every prog band was trying to out-Dream Theater each other. It wasn't sustainable, since listening to a superfast guitar solo a couple times is fine, but on the 50th listen, the lame themes of the song, the faux-'meaningfulness' of the lyrics, started to bleed into your experience. Progressive metal has evolved towards groups like Mastodon, Baroness, and Dillinger Escape Plan, which manage to be progressive without generating their meaning from their musical talent. Zero Hour make me wish they had more 'soul' to them. Occasionally it hits me that they're being a bit jazzy, or that they're crunching out heavy enough riffs to get my face all scrunched up, and take my hands off the keyboard for a second, in order to twitch my metal fingers.

But they do have this terrible pattern of playing the same arpeggio 4x in a row, with the same drum pattern; and pretending like this is musically interesting enough just because it's in a bizarre time signature. It's a PROG BREAKDOWN, is what it is. No need to struggle over writing a proper bridge! Just switch over to 13/4 for a couple bars.

Boom, called you out.

I'm glad prog breakdowns didn't catch on. Whatcha gonna do NOW??

Here's my favorite track I discovered while digging through the newer Zero Hour albums. Super-cheesy vocals + super-crunchy riffs and frequent double-bass. (I only pick the heaviest for you, my friends.)


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