Zippo – The Road To Knowledge

Zippo - The Road To Knowledge

The quality of an album depends just as much on the production as it does on the writing and performance. I have often encountered records with some interesting ideas that are ultimately ruined by poor sound, and I wish that the creators could go back and remix it, making it more polished and involving. The Road to Knowledge, the sophomore album by Zippo, is such a case. Also, it simply becomes redundant after a few tracks.

Zippo formed in Italy in 2004 with an aim to play “…a thousand-faces-stoner-rock, from massive and pachyderm sounds to moments of quietness and peace.” After Ode to Maximum was released in 2006, the band’s sound started turning darker, heavier, more psychedelic and deeper in complexity. They discovered Carlos Castaneda’s famous book The Teachings of Don Juan, and it inspired them to craft this conceptual album about addiction and self-will. There is certainly a mood of meditative self-reflection and growth, but there is also a lot of muddled sound, lacking any spark.

Appropriately, The Road to Knowledge opens with “Don Juan’s Words”. It features a spoken passage (in Italian, of course) over backward sound loops. It’s mysterious and intriguing. Soon festive drums and dancing bass introduce “El Sitio”, which also presents tight guitar work and interesting rhythmical shifts. The intensity and timbre of the vocals reminds one (if only slightly) of System of a Down. The singer also screams a decent amount, which makes him sound like he’s vomiting. Intangibly, it sounds like we’re hearing the music under water, as it’s clumped together and not at all vibrant. This remains true for the entire album.

The title track is more dynamic and acoustic, and it uses a wider array of instruments, making it a bit more engaging. At the same time, it has the aesthetic of a garage band (albeit a really good and rehearsed one). I know I sound like I’m probably contradicting myself, but again, this is what happens when the production doesn’t do justice to the promising material. “He is Outside Us” is a pretty acoustic piece that’s not too evolved but pleasant enough. A bit later, “Lizards Can’t Be Wrong” provides a tranquil intermission in the form of humming with lightly decorated accompaniment. It’s as if we’re sitting around a fire on holy land.

A lot of The Road to Knowledge sounds the same; it’s a big crash of drums, guitar and aggressive vocals. I know that that set up is the basis of rock music, but it doesn’t have to all sound this interchangeable (enough so that I feel an insufficient ability and need to discuss each track separately because they aren’t unique enough). The biggest “miss” is how they venture into poorly executed metal with the latter part of the album, starting with “El Enyerbado”. The singer can try his best to growl like James Hetfield and borrow the low register of the late Peter Steele, but it just sounds bad here.

“Reality Is What I Feel” has a very involving and impressive guitar passage; sounds eerily similar to In Flames’ beautiful “Acoustic Medley”. Still, it’s a nice change of pace, and definitely a highlight of the album. Similarly, Zippo seem to pay homage to brilliance of Sweden’s Opeth with the closing track, “Diablera”. It features the moving chord progressions, countermelody bass lines, and chanting of the [supposed] inspiration. I cite these comparisons not to accuse Zippo of plagiarism but to reference two standout tracks that fans of the complementing bands would appreciate.

The Road to Knowledge is a tragic album in a way. On one hand, it has some great ideas and interesting choices, as well as some great guitar pieces. But, it also lacks any real diversity outside of those moments, and the entire album could do with better production to make it sound more exhilarating and colorful (instead of dull and condensed, like it is now). Zippo certainly have something to offer listeners, but they haven’t quite figured out how to record their specialties well enough yet.