The latest EP from Zebrahead comes at an important crossroads in their history. II is the second release from the band since adding the new vocalist/guitarist Adrian Estrella, and finds Zebrahead tinkering with their sound in order to discover what works best for them for the foreseeable future. Their last record, entitled III, was a thrilling reinvention of their dynamic sound that left the realm of possibilities wide open for where this artist could travel to next. Much like a storm coming out to sea at the wrong time, this ship occasionally steers off course, when they could’ve simplified the process of crafting these songs. The band covers a little bit of new ground by adding more metal riffs in one song, and attempts a ska/punk track on the EP that goes a bunch of directions, but never in a straight path.
II starts off on the right foot with a blazing song called “No Tomorrow,” that hones in on the best elements of what Zebrahead are extremely good at. It ends up being the best song on the EP, and the lyrical material finds the band pondering on how much longer they can stay on top of their game. The chorus of, “I just wanna act young, but grow old with my friends / I just wanna get drunk / And be sober when I feel like it / I just wanna see the world before I go / Stay up all night and lose control / Act young and grow older with my friends / Live like there’s no tomorrow,” reminds the audience that eventually everyone needs to grow up, but staying young at heart is a commendable approach.
”Licking a Knife For Fun” is largely built around the lyrics we’ve heard too many times before, “I would rather die on my feet / Than live on my knees,” and comes across a bit of misstep as the band leans in towards a riff-heavy approach to their songwriting. The ska/punk song of “Evil Anonymous” follows with some vibrant guitar playing from Dan Palmer and Estrella as Ali shouts along, “Pain a state of mind / Wanna fight, get in line / Agent orange can’t deny / Under cover / Blind to lead the blind / You ain’t a friend of mine / I can never read the signs / Suffer (Suffer).” The tracks adds in some horns too to give off some Goldfinger vibes as well.
The heaviest song comes on “Middle Seat Blues,” that bassist Ben Osmundson explains as, “Imagine a song that combines a bit of metal, a bit of laid-back groove, and splashes a bit of punk on top. Hard to imagine right?” By giving the track a listen, it reminds me a bit of a metal-focused band trying out some experimental punk rock. Zebrahead have always been more of a punk rock band in spirit, so this one came as a curious choice, and a bit of a surprise in the EP’s sequencing. Zebrahead luckily gets back on the right footing with “F.L.F.U.” (or “Fuck Love and Fuck You”), that is closer to their usual wheelhouse of songs we’ve come to expect and want from the band. The drumming by Ed Udhus is particularly powerful in the opening verses, and he adds some nice fills in the bridge as well.
Overall, Zebrahead seem to be having some growing pains on this unbalanced record that tries too hard to be everything to everyone. The EP tries to check off all the boxes for all the sounds they’ve gone for over their career, but never really sticks to one style long enough to allow the audience to vibe to the entire record. That being said, the multiple directions that Zebrahead try out on II show that the band remains fearless and capable of creating a multitude of sounds; they just need to decide what type of band they’d like to be next.