photo & text by nacrowe
at the tale end of the 1990s NU METAL was very much in full swing. led by the likes of genre innovators like DEFTONES, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, KORN, INCUBUS and yes, LIMP BIZKIT, the lasting cultural impact was of an AGGRESSIVE ALTERNATIVE METAL DISSONANCE decorated with HIP HOP-derived production embellishments. this SOUND found its zenith with the more sonically SOPHISTICATED, structurally COHESIVE and seamlessly INTEGRATED SONGWRITING and PRODUCTION of LINKIN PARK's debut HYBRID THEORY (WARNER BROS, 2000) record, but when ZEBRAHEAD and their second record, and major label debut, WASTE OF MIND (COLUMBIA, 1998) arrived that was still a few years away.
this all to say that ZEBRAHEAD was very much a band of its time in terms of the sonic elements it was playing with, but it came from a distinctly different place. whereas those aforementioned bands (with the exception of INCUBUS) traded on ANGER and FRUSTRATION, ZEBRAHEAD had an AESTHETIC that incorporated the OPTIMISM and light HUMOR more associated with POP PUNK bands like THE VANDALS, LAGWAGON or BLINK-182. listening to WASTE OF MIND and their subsequent albums with original singer JUSTIN MAURIELLO, its apt to describe their SOUND as a cross between NU METAL and POP PUNK which were the culturally dominant rock genres of the period. i should also mention my bias at this point since ZEBRAHEAD is from LA HABRA which was literally the next town over from mine growing up in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. in fact, my father worked in LA HABRA and i spent much time there, so like other notable ORANGE COUNTY acts such as ATREYU, THE VANDALS, SOMETHING CORPORATE, ADOLESCENTS, SOCIAL DISTORTION, NO DOUBT, THE AQUABATS, SUBLIME and AGENT ORANGE, i always hold out a fondness for acts hailing from my childhood region. glad i got that out of the way.
unfortunately, more then two decades on ZEBRAHEAD comes off as a bit of a CULTURAL ANACHRONISM. i contend that this is partly due to the rapping of ALI TABATABAEE, which often sounds FORCED, STILTED and a bit AWKWARD. this isnt helped at all by references that didnt age well, notably a boasting allusion to DONALD TRUMP which is beyond CRINGE-INDUCING in retrospect. what saves the album time and time again is the INVENTIVE GUITAR WORK a la GREG BERGDORF and MAURIELLO as well as the catchy chorus melodies sung by MAURIELLO, especially on tracks such as "MOVE ON," "GET BACK," "JAG OFF," "TIME," "CHECK" and "WASTE OF MIND." as a guitar tandem, BERGDORF and MAURIELLO very much created OFF-KILTER RIFFS and SONIC TEXTURES that seemed distinctly rooted in the CELEBRATED TOM MORELLO / WES BORLAND school of IDIOSYNCRATIC guitar heroics. and that dynamic of INSPIRED GUITAR TEXTURES with catchy choruses (and terrible rapping) very much continued on subsequent releases PLAYMATE OF THE YEAR (COLUMBIA, 2000) and MFZB (COLUMBIA, 2003) before MAURIELLO's departure and later efforts with DARLING THIEVES and his solo career. after that departure the band continued on to diminishing returns as the SONIC HOOKS and MEMORABLE MELODIES left with him.
WASTE OF MIND is an INTRIGUING album as a cultural marker of the evolution and cross-pollination of NU METAL and POP PUNK at the dawn of the new millennium, but was quickly overshadowed by more HARDCORE purveyors of each separate genre, by everyone from SYSTEM OF A DOWN to NEW FOUND GLORY. i wouldnt recommend WASTE OF MIND, but the next album PLAYMATE OF THE YEAR is definitely worth checking out, despite its CRINGEY PLAYBOY co-branding.