State enters a packed Button Factory to the opening notes of ‘There is Light’, the first track from Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra‘s latest album, Kollaps Tradixionales. Fifteen minutes later, when the song ends, much has happened and much has been realised. The heady mix of epic song lengths, fuzzed up-guitars and violins, punky vocals (which are sometimes reminiscent of Joe Strummer or Jello Biafra in their delivery) and a grinding, grounding rythym section is impossible to ignore or classify. SMZ make complicated music but it never seems forced, the intricacies of each instrument, the odd time signatures, the drawn out repitition of the song structures, the whole intensely complex construct seems as natural as could be. Arranged in a semi-circle on stage, the five-piece go through crescendo after crescendo, ratcheting up the intensity with noise and volume or stripping it all down and starting again. Led in this mesmerising display of musicality by guitarist and vocalist Efrim Menuck, the band build and sway to the song’s final height and eventual release.
In contrast to the intensity of their fifteen or twenty minute constructs, the band is jovial between songs, playing the crowd with questions and joking among themselves. Whether chatting about the state of the economy or the problems of male pattern baldness. Menuck in particular is the consumate performer, casually introducing each song before we are taken again into the unique sound world which SMZ create. The dual violins of Sophie Trudeau and Jessica Moss contrast each other and lead the songs. One droning long harsh notes, the other playing melodies buried in the noise of the rest of the band. The double bass of Theirry Amar is an intregal aspect of the sound tonight, holding eveything together with imaginative but solid lines. The band’s group vocal talent become clear on ‘1,000,000 died to make this sound’, a track from their 2008 album 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons, the refrain of the title coming and going throughout the song leading us from spare beginnings to a violent ending. The same voices are there to fill the void after the noise, a comfort that is never quite safe.
SMZ rose from prestigious ashes but they’ve carved out a sound and a vision all of their own. Finishing on the ‘Piphany Rambler’, another fourteen minute epic, the band desert the stage and leave a drained crowd behind, slowly trying to shake the trance-like state that the music inspires.