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For Cephalic Carnage guitarist Zac Joe, the process of making the group's new CD, Xenosapien, was overwhelming at times. "You're so focused in on the little details that it's hard to pull out and tell whether what you're doing is genius or crap," he says.
Fortunately, the results are a lot closer to the former than the latter. Xenosapien is a smorgasbord of Cephalic styles ranging from "Endless Cycle of Violence," the memorably brutal opener, to "The Omega Point," an existential drama featuring singing that evokes none other than robo-toned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. "Apparently, Stephen Hawking is really into technical death metal," Zac insists, with mock sincerity. "He says that's the next evolutionary step of humanity."
Granted, reaching this stage wasn't easy for Zac and his mates — guitarist Steve Goldberg, bassist Nick Schendzielos, drummer John Merryman and lead growler Lenzig Leal. The musicians assembled their own studio and T-shirt-printing facility on the second floor of an old lumber store in what Zac refers to as "an undisclosed location within the Denver area." But the combination of gear problems and the snowstorms that crippled the metro area earlier this year pushed back the Xenosapien sessions by weeks, thereby delaying the disc's scheduled release on Relapse Records. Once the players were finally able to tackle the task at hand, the clock was ticking, and Zac admits that he "just wanted to hit my head against the wall so many times, thinking, 'Why the hell did we write technical riffs like this?'"
Those efforts paid off: Numbers such as "Divination & Volition" blend intestine-tearing power with ultra-skillful fret gymnastics. Still, Zac emphasizes that the group "never set out to be technical for technical's sake." Instead, the goal was to mix up a genre that often succumbs to one-dimensionality. "There are some bands that have two riffs in their whole set," he says. "In death metal, it seems like everything's got to be formulaic. But for us, we really want the songs to be individual."
Thus far, Xenosapien is earning raves from the metal community, and Zac hopes the album can help make his dream of earning a living solely as a musician finally come true. "That's why we purchased the studio and the print shop — so those can be our jobs, and we can be working for ourselves and take whatever success the band has brought on to allow us to do that." Still, he retains a firm grip on reality. As he puts it, "I'm not looking to be a rich rock star off this, because that would just be delusional."
Maybe so — but at least he's on the right side of the genius-to-crap continuum.
Visit Westword's blogs for more of our interview with Zac Joe.