"A Hiding Place"

By The Great Sun Jester

Hard-working Zodiac's new release from Prosthetic Records, "A Hiding Place", is a red-hot slab of retro hard rock. All of the best young rock bands are hailing from Europe these days, particularly old school acts like this German outfit, and the band succeeds building on their debut effort, "A Bit of Devil", without producing a thinner knock-off.

The opening number, "Downtown", is a gritty, but melodic rocker highlighted by a strong guitar solo. The AC/DC influence is unmistakable, but the band brings greater variety to bear. There is a generally much more melodic approach to their songwriting, but "Downtown"'s riff is memorable. Nick Van Delft's vocals show attention to phrasing and a wider emotive range than many singers of his ilk do.

"Free" is a dynamic, full-on guitar workout bubbling over with energy and imagination. It is a testament to the band's sonic scope and Van Delft's playing that the band can sustain the listener's interest despite the guitar-dominated attack. For those familiar with Zodiac's first album, this song is a bright harbinger of the future. It highlights the band's commitment to growth and their increasing confidence as a songwriting and performing entity.

 The moody brilliance of "Leave Me Blind" is hard to encompass briefly. Van Delft's vocals are the unquestioned highlight - grim, but weighed with a genuine gravitas that is impossible to ignore. The piano is a wonderful touch and more evidence of the band's broadening musical palette.

However, it wouldn't be right to talk about this performance without mentioning the superb job the band does in deepening the atmospherics and heightening drama.

 "I Wanna Know" is a shifting, two-part song that oozes blues and sharp rock and roll attitude. Despite the creative songwriting, this is one of the songs that owe a great deal to the band's influences, but it has every ounce of the nasty bite Zodiac possesses as an unit.

The album closer is a cover of Neil Young and Crazy Horse's classic "Cortez the Killer". This song has seen its fair share of good and bad interpretations over the years, but Zodiac does an exemplary job of capturing the contrasting stately measure and chaos lurking side by side in this song. Likewise, the playing and vocals invoke the "wide-screen" atmosphere of this epic to excellent effect.

Without question, Zodiac have avoided the dreaded sophomore slump. The band has accomplished this by expanding and experimenting with new approaches closer to who they are as individuals and musical artists. This is a band with a bright future and an album like "A Hiding Place" is a decisive step forward in that direction.