Zombi Credit: Matt Dayak

It’s been five years since Pittsburgh instrumental duo Zombi released Shape Shift. In May, they whetted the appetites of their long-suffering fans with the single “Breakthrough & Conquer,” which features guitar solos from Trans Am’s Philip Manley, and this month multi-instrumentalist Steve Moore and drummer A.E. Paterra have officially slid back onto the scene with a new sixth album, 2020—a 40-minute joy of crunchy riffs and beautifully layered electronics. Zombi’s music tends to fall across a dichotomy between the aesthetic of 70s art-house horror films on one hand and muscular, sci-fi-inflected hard rock and space rock on the other. The chunky riffs of “Earthscraper” and “Family Man” wouldn’t sound out of place on a midperiod Blue Öyster Cult album; the trance-inducing keyboard intro to “XYZT” almost single-handedly redeems early Styx; and the monumental monster drums in the intro to “First Flower” support an elegant metallic melody in a way that recalls Rush. Though Zombi are good at bombast, they don’t need it to make their statements. The Euro-funky “Thoughtforms” closes 2020 with a cinematic haze that evokes the visuals of the 1981 animated movie Heavy Metal—when its power chords come in, they’re sublimely satisfying, and the song’s fadeout is also unusually gratifying, suggesting that Zombi’s journey continues long after the album’s final notes. I also like the use of fade-in on “Fifth Point of the Pentangle,” which feels like curtains being drawn aside on a ritual that’s already in progress. With 2020, Moore and Paterra have crafted a logical successor to Shape Shift that carries their sound into greater sophistication; the first half of the album has the rambunctious vibe of a hard-rock crowd pleaser, and throughout the B side the wizard shows his real colors and complexities. The whole record testifies to Zombi’s skill at weaving various threads of metal, electronic music, and prog into something that’s utterly true to their influences but also beast unto itself.  v