Oh, good good good. Zaq Pariah has formed a band. A real band.
And it even seems like he’s settled on a name for them: Slept To Death, matching the excellent demo Pariah dropped in 2013. I have called it possibly maybe my favorite Cleveland local album ever, much to the dismay of Pariah (this time crediting himself by his real name, Zack Lint), who frankly doesn’t give a fuck about supporting a local scene.
But let’s not get caught up in drama. What I really care about is finding quality, and telling you about it. Lint’s material in the past has been consistently stellar, yielding extremely well to repeated listens and deep meditation on lyrical themes. All of my senses perked when I heard he had a new EP coming.
RAT drafts is a three-song sampler of the songs the new band has been playing. I had already heard all of these songs before, as Lint has multiple aliases on different Bandcamp pages, and he has sporadically released random material on each of them as he has felt fit- and deleted them just as sporadically.
“IDW” was previously released on PRL, the last of three 5-song demo EPs Lint released under the banners of Zaq Pariah and Pariah’s Ilk between 2013 and 2016. PRL was immediately a clear outlier in his catalogue. It preferred various fast-paced electronic beats over traditional rock instrumentation. Instead of telling a ‘story’ like Slept To Death purported to do, PRL used thematically repeating lyrics. For example, in “IDW,” he says very many times: “I’ll do whatever it takes / I’ll do whatever it takes / I’ll do whatever it takes / To be on top of the world…”
Honestly, when PRL came out, I thought “IDW” was too long and too repetitive- and it wasn’t the only song on the EP that I felt that way about. This problem made PRL easily my least favorite Pariah release.
So, glory glory, here on RAT drafts, Lint has shortened “IDW” from 3:48 to 3:06. Additionally, the drums are a real kit this time instead of the distracting electronic beats from before. There are some interesting start/stops, and Lint’s squealing guitar tones make this version much better than the old one.
But he still uses the same angst-ridden themes in the lyrics. While that makes it the weakest song on RAT drafts, tracks 2 and 3 more than make up for it, and the differences in perspective give us an interesting chance to explore Lint’s character. We’ll come back to that in a minute.
I keep catching myself singing “The Honored One” at odd hours of the day. It opens with clashy 7th chords that work very well to create an irradiated atmosphere. The lyrics are vague, but they obviously match the downcast sound: “There’s no escaping it – You foolish sapien – Under breath you’ll curse the spoils in which you have partaken.” He is vague, and so this song is open for interpretation. He says, “…You’ll know the hunger of the beast, unending,” but never specifies what the beast is. Who granted him honor? He doesn’t say. But I personally relate to this song, and know who granted honor to me.
Sealing the deal for “The Honored One” is a great guitar solo. Lint is easily among the best guitarists in town. Here, he is noisy and charged. The picking is urgent and scratchy. The swift sweeps hit a wide spectrum of frequency ranges, giving it a full and powerful sound despite its relative lowness in the mix. This is the best new guitar solo I’ve heard in 2019.
The final song on RAT drafts, “Cog” starts out gigantic and chugging, then draws back into a quiet verse where Nathaniel Brown’s bass plays very well off of Lint’s guitar. The drumming of Tynan Evans (and apparently Lint, according to the credits) is at times delicate, and then slams on the gas when it needs to. His (their) cymbal work is exquisite.
“Cog” explores meaninglessness in picturesque detail. By using verbs, Lint makes it so that we can watch what is happening. “Always we fall, to stand – We choke, and then we chant a mantra of rebirth…” But Lint doesn’t let the darkness of the song’s verse fall flat on itself, going on to decree acceptance of his minuscularity in the scorching chorus: “Sometimes – it’s nice to feel – I’m just a cog in the wheel … of the universe.”
There exists a dissonance between parts of “Cog” and “IDW”. In “IDW,” Lint says, “I need necessity / I want celebrity… / I want the accolades / I won’t… have it any other way / Why loan my good will to bottomless problems? / If I can’t look at the sky up above then I’ll drag you all to hell with me…” This version of him is selfish, angsty, would step on you to get what he wants. Even to this extent: “I won’t have to kill a man / Unless that is a part of the plan.” This seems to be the same character that, in “Cog,” sings “I’m not a part of your miserable, crooked world.”
Versus the very concept of “Cog”: little gears, part of a (greater?) whole, turning together to drive forward the universe. He even says, “Sometimes, I like to feel I’m just a cog in the wheel.”
So, does Zaq Pariah desire to take over the world? Or withdraw from it? Or does he honestly like and accept the humility of being “Only a cog in the wheel?” This cognitive dissonance helps to make him an interesting character to study- impossible to predict, and so always surprising. Fueled by his outpsoken wordcraft, Lint lets us explore thoroughly both of these battling ideas. It’s Ellsworth Toohey versus Howard Roark. In our world, Toohey is winning. In Lint’s universe, it’s still up for debate.
Zack Lint AKA Zaq Pariah and his new band, Slept To Death, have great chemistry, and they are producing material together much faster, and of a higher quality, than Lint was able to do when he was recording alone. Rumour has it RAT drafts is just the first of several releases they are planning this summer, and if those recordings share the quality especially prevalent on the two final tracks of this EP, then we’ve got some really good stuff to look forward to from this group.