AMN Reviews: John Zorn – Nostradamus: The Death of Satan (2021; Tzadik)

One does not expect to find soulful jams on a recording with the word “Satan” in its title, but in the world of John Zorn such juxtapositions are not uncommon. The ninth outing of Zorn’s power trio Simulacrum, Nostradamus: The Death of Satan shows a more varied and mature cohesion between organist John Medeski, drummer Kenny Grohowski, and guitarist Matt Hollenberg. Indeed, Flowers of Heaven includes a blues vamp over which Hollenberg solos in like fashion, then he and Medeski gently trade leads.

Thus, at first, this album seems somewhat removed from the brain-splitting technical metal of the group’s 2015 debut. But such notions are short-lived, as several tracks – Melmoth, Seven Spirits, and The Stygian Pool, in particular – include massive riffs and tumultuous soloing. Still, the all-out approach of early Simulacrum is tempered by more diverse and nuanced playing. These pieces all move along at a healthy pace despite shifting levels of aggression therein. Also present is another Simulacrum mainstay, jagged improved noise. Whether used to link more structured passages or as an end to itself, these elements are sublime. A Mantic Stain is a prime example of this rough-edged approach.

Nostradamus: The Death of Satan represents Zorn’s integrative process, where his newer compositions tend to include both overt and subtle variations of his previous works. The result is an expanding palette of sounds consummated by way of Medeski, Grohowski, and Hollenberg’s technical brilliance. Whether this ends up being the final recording for Simulacrum or they continue in this form, it will remain a compelling representation of their story arc. Well done.