Exotic Animal Petting Zoo’s Tree of Tongues is not your typical metal album. It isn’t your typical post-hardcore, shoegaze, hard rock or indie rock album either. Musically diverse in such a way it is almost disruptive, the Indiana-based group seems literally torn in their execution of atmospheric, yet aggressive tunes on their newest cut of tracks. Tree of Tongues almost seems the most proper way to describe this album, as the interwoven voices, both vocal and instrumental, take us everywhere from dark and groovy to blistering and to the point. It is a crock pot of influences to deal with, but the result is usually interesting enough to keep your attention from waning. Though a challenging listen at first, Tree of Tongues is impressive in its ability to find a way to connect these tracks together as a whole – even if the general product is a bit difficult to wade through at times.
The most baring parts of the band certainly fall in the heavy music realm as spurts of double bass, sizzling vocal lines and buzzing guitars beef up a good portion of the album. “Thorough.Modern” flashes moments of Fear Before amongst fits of thick melodies and busty bass, while “The Great Explainer” begins with a shot of energy, bursting at the seam with fiery guitars at nearly every turn. Yet, the latter drops that idea for a sludgy, yet bouncy verse pushed into darker territory by unapologetic lyricism.
The other side of the blade lays in the brooding, often surreal melodic uprising that sounds much more akin to getting lost in a sea of sound a la shoegaze and post-rock that often mixes ideas of progressive, post-hardcore and indie rock into the concoction. “Pharmakokinetic” is a slow-starter, but calls upon huge contributions in the full-on mix of instruments here. Maybe not always as energetic as say A Lot Like Birds, Exotic Animal Petting Zoo certainly aren’t afraid to push the boundaries of the album as far as possible, whether it’s finding a nice groove to settle into regardless of how heavy they are sounding (“Kaspar Hauser Could See the Stars in the Daytime”) or flicking the switch from dirty heavy to blissful at the near drop of a hat (“You Make Wonderful Pictures”). It is almost strange to hear some of these passages only once, as you can never be quite sure where you’ve been – or be fairly certain of where you’re going.
While Tree of Tongues is a bit jarring on first listen, the question comes back to: how memorable are these epic passages of melody with a hint of mayhem? Arguably not very without multiple listens, as some of these tracks almost don’t make sense on paper to make much imprint outside of the realm of this album. It reminds a bit of a less catchy Conversation Piece or a not quite as cohesive The Always Open Mouth, combining the heavy with the less hectic yet lush yang to the metal yin, though more often than not the utter chaos and disorder is hard to ignore in attempting to piece them together.
Exotic Animal Petting Zoo get good marks for effort and creativity here, but Tree of Tongues doesn’t leave enough behind in order to make the leap from good to great. In time, this could be a band with a doozy of a sound that broadens horizons and reaches the lengths of oft-misconnected musical ideas. But for now, we get a solid effort of quirked arrangements and gorgeous bouts of melody. Tie it together better, and you’ve got something great.