Zionhill: Inside of You (Moko)

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Zionhill: Foot Soldier
Zionhill: Inside of You (Moko)

Too many New Zealand reggae bands, once they have got the rhythm and melody down, rarely have much to say lyrically which doesn't default to soft notions about home and family, or a bunch of tick-the-box Rasta cliches about Babylon and Jah.

It is as if the political contract which was outlined by Bob Marley (and on home turf, very early Herbs) proves too difficult, although there is certainly a lot worth commenting on.

For the most part Zionhill, out of Raglan, make good on the template which Herbs offered and the opener here Crying Earth is a strong statement about the damage being done to the land. Inside of You is a more poetic and metaphoric take on the same idea and Foot Soldier adopts a more militant stance ("tearing up the iron ore, the keys to the iron vault on the western shore . . . fighting for the cause").

And later, although they do tend to be broad cliches, they speak of people power and poverty (Untitled), action now because time can pass quickly (The New Fighter), the need to put past hurts behind and stand up (Brighter Day) and Maori sovereignty (the rather trite Freedom)

Yes, there are Jah songs (Gate Keeper, Million Jah) and the more benign love songs (Can You Feel It, My Power). But Zionhill stretch into areas few reggae bands want to trouble themselves with -- and they also have another significant dimension.

In Shailah Rudolph they have a synth player/guitarist with metal sensibilities and vocalist Gavin Dempsey was in Hamilton's hard rock band Blackjack. Which means Foot Solder comes with washes of scouring synth and tough guitar, Soul is a trippy dub-styled workout for wah-wah guitar, and Zionterra has Hendrix/Sabbath guitar monstering. All these mix up the sounds and shift the coordinates away from the standard (and cliched) reggae tropes.

For a debut, this one hold considerable promise and pointers, and if it falls for the obvious (and the befuddled, "come rally fight for Jah people" and "what you say now doesn't really matter. Self-determination!" in Freedom) at least it attempts to broaden the possibilities beyond the familiar buzzwords of Rasta/Jah/family.

Like the sound of this? Then try this.

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