The last year or so has been quite the busy one for Zoax. Since their rechristening from Hoax in such a fashion that you can’t quite tell whether it was done for better search engine optimization or to make more of an impact in the inter-band Scrabble games, the quintet have thrashed out ‘XIII’. Despite being far from related to the Belgian graphic novel series of the same name or the video game spinoff it spawned in 2003, ‘XIII’ nonetheless displayed a striking personality that could be described as reminiscent of the former namesake, while ultimately adopting the same criminal underexposure as the latter. It’s a relief then that Zoax are allowed in ‘Is Everybody Listening?’ the chance that the XIII video game never received; a chance to build and capitalise on an initial release that suggested nothing but positive omens for the future, and while the 2014 EP may have been little more than a testing of the waters in the grand scheme of things, ‘Is Everybody Listening?’ is a chance for the five-piece to add a clear direction to the proceedings.
Instantly, however, there’s a stumbling block. The strength of ‘XIII’ lay in the force with which each track was delivered. ‘Bitter.Angry.Fake’ and ‘Burn it to the Ground’ both managed to hit with a velocity that would ensure the Zoax name stuck with you regardless of where the EP went from there. It was a textbook execution of how to kick a record off. It’s an example, however, that ‘Is Everybody Listening?’ fails to follow. The addition of an intro track entitled simply ‘?’ does nothing to snap you into action, though the question mark is rather fitting as a representation of the head-scratching that needs to be done as you ponder why the record would open this way. It could perhaps be overlooked on a full album where two minutes is far less pivotal, and if the purpose of the track was dramatic build then it could be excused, but it isn’t. It comes off as a disappointingly muted beginning and even vocalist Adam Carroll’s delivery of the EP’s titular question as ‘?’ gives way to ‘Lonely Souls’ lacks the Irishman’s typical power. The introduction is ultimately awkward and while it may be passed off as a minor flaw you’d certainly be forgiven if at least some iota of excitement for the new EP is replaced by a nervous trepidation by the time ‘Lonely Souls’ rocks up.
The first real track on the record, then, needs to hit hard. Luckily, after one quick riff the same old five-man power surge burst onto the scene. ‘Lonely Souls’ does exactly what’s required of it; the false start forgiven under a hail of powerchords and the arena-ready sound that has quickly become typical of the London-based outfit. There is an ebb and flow to the track which does what ‘?’ couldn’t, proving that Zoax don’t need to keep their foot on the gas pedal permanently to leave a lasting impression. You can’t deny, however, that everything slots into place superbly when the punches aren’t pulled, and ‘Lonely Souls’ could serve as a rallying point for Arcane Roots comparisons in that respect. There’s certainly a similar back and forth between this and ‘Million Dollar Question’, for example, and if any British band is equipped to ape the rise of the Kingston-Upon-Thames trio then right now you’d be wise to bet on Zoax. ‘Click’ is much the same in terms of showing off just how much potential the quintet really have, boasting a chorus to die for and arguably Carroll’s best vocal work yet.
It really warrants an echoing of the praise we gave ‘XIII’ upon its release last year; the five-piece have lost none of the hulking presence that tends to be so uncharacteristic of the typical emerging rock act, but is fast becoming characteristic of Zoax themselves. ‘Zero Point Seven’ grabbed our attention last week when the video for the track showed off just what kind of powder keg the band have been sitting on for the past twelve months. It’s the shortest track on the album if we exclude the intro, and quite possibly the most striking in spite of the time constraints it’s faced with. While ‘Click’ remains Carroll’s personal standout performance, ‘Zero Point Seven’ is the ultimate display thus far of Zoax’s all-round ability. New band, perhaps, but no member is without his own wealth of experience and no song has done quite as good a job of showcasing this before now. After such a thunderous trifecta of songs you’re almost thankful for the somewhat more laid back ‘Right Words’, but even the EP’s penultimate effort takes a running jump into the anthemic end of the band’s spectrum of sounds by the time the two and a half minute mark is reached. ‘Innocent Eyes’ offers an even more withdrawn introduction, but ‘Is Everybody Listening?’ wouldn’t be complete without the last dose of post-hardcore power, and the final ounces of groove are well-utilised.
The final minutes of the EP provide the send-off it deserves, and you’re left with a record that if you ignore the first ninety-eight seconds becomes very hard to criticise at all. It’s as if Zoax have somehow painted the Mona Lisa despite having started with the eyes of Daffy Duck, and once again the quintet have proven themselves to be one of the best emerging bands the British rock and metal scene has got in its arsenal. At this point the best thing you can do besides buying the band’s EPs and catching them live is phoning up Century Media and begging them to have Zoax release a full-length album at last.
‘Is Everybody Listening?’ EP by Zoax is out now on Century Media.
Words by Antony Lusmore (@Metacosmica_)