Since A Silver Mt. Zion's inception as a more or less spinoff of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the group's style has evolved in as many successions as their name has been tweaked. On Kollaps Tradixionales, the sixth full-length of the group (who are going by Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra this time around), they expand upon the infusion of heavy rock from their last, 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons. It's surprising how aggressive Silver Mt. Zion is able to sound here; fans who haven't been listening since 2001's Born into Trouble as Sparks Fly Upward (their album titles should serve as a testament to their flair for the dramatic) would scarcely recognize them. The merge of post-rock stylings and riff heavy hard rock are indeed intriguing, and they're even better at it here than they were the last time around.
One of the first things that really catches the ear is how straight forward Efrim Menuck's vocals have become. He doesn't suddenly sound like Johnny Cash or anything like that, but there's a certain confidence in his delivery. His voice no longer quivers with frailty, and he actually shouts at times, which results in their most bluntly politically charged record yet. On the fifteen minute opener There Is a Light, Menuck soars with the song's high points and even in the more mournful low moments, his voice still has a certain power to it, particularly in the rousing final climax around the twelve - thirteen minute mark (he says "C'mon!!" you know vocalists mean business when they say that). The real startling track here is I Built Myself a Metal Bird, which is a flat-out rocker that does not let up once in its six minutes. The song is already intense by the time we get to the middle, where Menuck is repeatedly shouting "Virtueless in the white smoke," and while the guitar drops for a bit, leaving for a lone violin over the pounding drums, the momentum only builds. It culminates in metallic riffing, an arpeggio of violins, and Menuck shouting "Dance, motherfucker" repeatedly, and then abruptly ends.
Then there is the trio of tracks titled after name variations on the album's title, which serve as a sort of three song suite. Kollapz Tradixional (Thee Dirty Old Flag) has a more familiar Silver Mt. Zion sound, recalling the first few LPs, with a somewhat desolate atmosphere produced by the ebb and flow of dingy violins and clean electric guitar, and a slow moving piano. Collapse Traditional (For Darling) is in the same vein, but serves more as an interlude, with Menuck singing sadly but lovingly over mournful violins for a minute and a half. Kollaps Tradicional (Bury 3 Dynamos) returns to the loud, clanging aggression on Metal Bird, starting out with a booming intro beneath violins growing in urgency, and building up all the way through the song's middle point. In fact, the track seems to end right in the middle of its own build-up, with the tension not really being resolved until the closing 'Piphany Rambler takes over, which, like the opener, is a sprawling, fifteen minute long epic that passes by more quickly than you might think.
While the band (whichever of the somewhat pretentious name variations you'd prefer to call them) has grown with producing intense build-ups and explosive peaks with this expanded touch of aggression, the haunting depth they so expertly gave off in the past is long gone. It's hard to say that they're gravitating toward a traditional indie rock sound, as there really aren't any heavy symphonic based indie rock bands, but armed with the bristling confidence in Menuck's outspoken vocals on Kollaps Tradixionales, that is strangely what they're starting to sound like. Even so, the music is still powerful in its own right (as it always has been), and like I said, it's not as though there's anybody else making music like this, and despite any reservations over the continuing change in their music, it still sounds great.