Even when a band seemingly drops off the face of the earth – seriously, Exotic Animal Petting Zoo, at least give us an update, a short memo, something! – their work will remain in the hearts of their most devoted fans. Indiana mathcore weirdos EAPZ are (were?) a great example for this. Wowing audiences with their deft blending of genres, they quickly became underground darlings before quietly shuffling out of the spotlight at some point. Albums like their 2008 début I Have Made My Bed In Darkness have not diminished in brilliance despite the prolonged radio silence, though, which is exactly why we’re here today: to praise its many merits – and drop some passive-aggressive hints towards its makers to finally get back in touch with their fanbase. Pretty please 😊

Robert Miklos

I’d like to start off my ramblings by stating that no amount or type of words (yet to be created) are apt in any measure to appropriately convey the breadth, depth, and amplitude of this album. So take the following as an attempt to crystalize a phenomenon that’s too outstanding. Unfortunately, Exotic Animal Petting Zoo has had, so far, a short-lived career, spanning just two records – by which I mean they’re not officially disbanded or anything; they’re each incredible in their own right. As you may have already figured out, I’ll be tackling their 2008 debut – I Have Made My Bed In Darkness.

I mean, hit the brakes right there. That fucking title. I mean, that’s more than enough to catch your attention. That’s one wildly vivid and surreal image, isn’t it? It implies so many layers of things to ponder, and it sets the mood immediately, although you could never be ready for what happens after you hit play if this is your first time with the record. Hell, even if it’s your tenth time, you might not be entirely ready.

I remember discovering this on a small trip I took six years ago to the hillsides, not too far from my hometown. I took a few days off from work to basically just walk in the woods to recharge myself. On my way home, on the bus, I was searching for bands similar to Follow the White Rabbit. Through some weird miracle I saw Exotic Animal Petting Zoo. Upon seeing that band name, I figured this is either some genius/mastermind level stuff or pure hot garbage. I hit play, and barely five minutes in, I was so sold that I listened to it on repeat all the way home and then basically for the rest of the day. I was quite literally addicted to it. It was a level of obsession I have very rarely experienced with records.

I was also going through some wild shit at the time on a personal level, so the nature of the album appealed to me even more than it normally would have. It provided me with a kind of relatability and support, which is (or was) simply inaccessible via conversations with people you’re close to. It also proved to be an incredibly effective means of achieving escapism for when I simply couldn’t be arsed to deal with what was troubling me. It’s sort of weird to say so, but I really formed a bond – if you will – with the record, or let’s say that I grew very attuned to its sensibilities and contents. Sure, this makes me quite biased towards it and when discussing it, and even though I love it to a fault, in itself it has many merits and goes really far down its respective musical rabbit hole.

So, I think this is right about where I should tell you, in a somewhat more palpable manner what you can expect to find inside. Well, firstly, Exotic Animal Petting Zoo is a trio. Brothers Stephen (guitars and vocals) and Brandon Carr (drums, vocals, samples) formed as this band four years prior to their debut, and just a year later took on Scott Certa on bass. They also employed two other guitarists between 2008 and 2012 – Steve Radakovich and Jeffrey Zampillo. The brothers take turns handling the vocals, which is not an easy feat considering the kind of stuff they do on their respective instruments, but they do so at a world class level.

Alright, so let me circle back a little to that first time I hit play. I took the album from top to bottom. I have to say, “Seeds” is one fuck of an album opener, clocking in eight-and-a-half minutes and lulling us about with some weirdly eerie and dark ambiances for a solid minute. Then, suddenly, it just runs into you like a flotilla of trains on fire, all packed to the brim with high octane explosives. That mathcore edge really packs a punch. When you feel like it’s starting to ease up on you with some more easy-going approaches – you’re wrong – it hits the throttle through the floor again.

This could very well sum up the overall ebb and flow of the dynamic of this record, even if it’s a little reductive. I guess it’s like you’re on a rollercoaster running through Dante’s Inferno, but made of mathcore, post-rock, alternative metal, post-hardcore, and shoegaze, wrapped up with a very progressive heart. It takes the best of all of these styles and delivers them in one of the most novel ways (take this with a boulder of salt). The employed eclecticism feels oddly organic and lacking any trace of contrivance. It’s really beyond me how such songwriting is achieved, but it’s nothing short of brilliant. At a glance, on paper, this mix sounds like some kind of monstrous, hideous deformity that has no business existing, yet it turned out to be one of the most rapturously enthralling things I can point to in the world of modern music.

The surreal nature of the music almost feels like a given. At first, I took it for granted, but it’s something very meticulously crafted and something that has an authenticity few will ever come close to reproducing or reaching. This trait will surface via the unhinged aggression and chaos akin to a thousand wars falling down an infinite flight of stairs while it’s raining chainsaws. It will also make itself seen during passages that are dreamy in a traditional sense, eliciting emotions that border on longing with a pensive attitude. The range in between these is wide and adroitly portrayed, so I’ll leave that for you to explore and chart.

To this day I’m still debating whether there’s some kind of narrative thread, giving an extra layer to the absolutely laminar flow of the record as it goes from start to finish. It certainly feels like it sometimes, while sometimes it couldn’t even conceive that notion. It doesn’t really matter, but it’s something I tend to look into with every/any album. I Have Made My Bed In Darkness is definitely saying something. Whether it’s a story, or several, or none, or some other kind of twisted message, I’m certain anyone can derive something from it.

Part of the album’s madly alluring aura stems from its memorability, both as a whole as well as when taking it apart phrase by phrase. There’s at least one memorable hook or bit in each song, something so infectious and sticky that it would take a superhuman effort to rid yourself of that reoccurring chunk that makes your head bob uncontrollably. I’d love to just litter around with timestamps and overzealous descriptions of what are each of these for me, but that’d be too excessive (at least, this is what I was told), so I guess that’s up to each of you to uncover.

This is one of the few albums in my musical library in which I’ve yet to find a single fault, having heard it at least a hundred times since I discovered it. There’s nothing I can complain about, on any level, no matter how hard I try to nitpick. Every damn space and sound is exactly where it should be and I simply wouldn’t have it any other way. To me, I Have Made My Bed In Darkness is one of the greatest albums of all time – regardless of genre. It’s brutal, it’s glorious, it’s dark, it’s majestic, it’s mysterious, it’s brooding, it’s wistful, it’s heavy handed, it’s poetic, it’s… ultimately – ineffable – to be perfectly honest.

Dylan Nicole Lawson

Let me begin by saying I am a total newcomer to Exotic Animal Petting Zoo. Despite having heard their name plenty of times in the past, I have somehow never quite taken the time to properly delve into them. Listening to this album, I’m overjoyed to say I’ve finally done it.

From start to finish, this album does it all. We get this atmospheric, almost post-rock like haze in the cleaner bits, and whenever we get distortion; mathy, odd-timed passages, with unbelievably well-delivered vocals to accompany some truly intriguing instrumentation. Every part of even just the opening track, “Seeds”, tells you exactly why this band is one for the books. I may have mentioned this before, but for me personally, it isn’t often that songs spanning much more than 4 or 5 minutes can manage to keep my intention quite like “Seeds” does at 8 minutes and 26 seconds.

The proceeding tracks, “Anniversary Psalm” and “Hairdresser”, further emphasize the prowess of this band. Strong vocal delivery, with literal brothers and singers Stephen and Brandon Carr giving quite the impressive range of styles throughout both tracks. The opening of “Anniversary Psalm” gives me Mike Patton-approved vibes. “A Balloon Enters Kyoto” almost feels like a more tamed Russian Circles track. I’m also in love with bassist Scott Certa’s runs. Not to mention the drum work here is unquestionably something of inspirational quality.

It is really saddening to know this would be one of only two albums the band released (a quick lookup on them seems to point to either a dissolvement or somewhat of a hiatus of sorts? Who knows!), but the impact and edge this group flaunted is quite apparent. I can’t personally say I’ve known many bands that manage to be this sporadic and ‘all over the place’, so to speak, and still manage to keep their concise, coherence about them, too. A pinnacle audio example of ‘organized chaos’, if you will.

I am not certain, nor could I even begin to speculate, what this band is up to or perhaps what is keeping them inactive currently, but I know this much – I’m keeping my eyes on them for whatever the next move will be! Having released this gem as their debut album in 2008, and pulling it off as a quartet, drummer and guitarist handling vocal duties, to call their music ‘impressive’ is a dire understatement. Making it as a band is hard, even if you have the most ‘easy-listening’ thing in the world under your belt; Making it as a band with this level of complexity to your songwriting is almost a whole different ball game.

I did not want my contribution to this piece to come off as simply a review, because it’s really not. There’s not enough good things to say about this album and plenty of praise has likely already been given by now, I’m sure. But as a retrospection of what this band was; I feel as though their influence is (or perhaps should be) almost up there with the likes of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Tub Ring, Mr. Bungle, Candiria, Deadguy, and perhaps even some other names I’m not immediately listing. If nothing else, this band would go great on a bill with any of the above. Even if the impact left behind were more of a niche one, or confined to a specific, select group of listeners… this is boundary-pushing music at (one of) its peak(s).

Exotic Animal Petting Zoo have found a fan in me. My only complaint is that this is an unfortunate case of me being ‘late to the party’ on a super awesome band and, of course, they’re currently inactive (queue the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme song). At any rate, I’m still just happy it happened at all. I’m glad this band exists and are chronicled to continue to be discovered, and as previously stated, I look forward to when they return to the ring. Or maybe the zoo? Or maybe the zoo is opened again? I don’t know, not sure any particular pun I come up with this late into the evening is going to really hit the way I’d hope. Good thing I Have Made My Bed In Darkness already exists and is the subject matter to take care of the ‘hitting’ duty for me!

If you goofed up like me and somehow haven’t heard this one yet; do what I did – listen immediately!

Toni Meese

This is not necessarily just a love letter for I Have Made My Bed In Darknesss, the debut record by post-hardcore/mathcore outfit Exotic Animal Petting Zoo. This is also a cry for help. Where are you, EAPZ? Why did you leave me?

Let’s jump back a couple of years ago. The year was – well, I actually have no idea which year it was exactly, I just remember it was somewhen in the late ’00s. I was head deep into extreme metal, hardcore, prog, and jazz. A true snob in the making, so to say. I dabbled into mathcore here and there, but the genre as of itself was still a mystery to me. Converge changed that in a heartbeat. As a methodical human being, I was intriguied by the term mathcore and paid tribute to the ‘big ones’, like Botch and Coalesce. Later on, I loved listening to Knut and Dillinger, next to couple of other influential names within the genre. And then came Exotic Animal Petting Zoo.

The band showed me a new side of mathcore. They showed me that chaos can co-exist with order – that dissonance and harmony can go hand in hand. While EAPZ were wild, especially on their first album, they always had sense for nice melodies. Released through the then legendary label Mediaskare Records, I Have Made My Bed In Darkness made a splash into the scene, and the band quickly rose to prominence with their erratic, Zappa-esque energy, mixed up with dreamy, post-rockish sequences. Bringing more or less controlled chaos into usually tamed prog sounds was always one of the bands biggest qualities. With songs like “A Balloon Enters Kyoto City” or “These People Refuse To Believe That The Lake Is Bottomless”, EAPZ gave room to breathe on their debut album, creating balance as well as tension like only a few others were able to do before or after them.

It’s a shame that after their fantastic second album Tree or Tongues, the band seemingly disappeared, leaving fans behind, eager for another sign of life. Trust me, a lot of us want to visit this petting zoo again. There is much left to touch and smell, after all.

Dominik Böhmer

Dominik Böhmer

Pretentious? Moi?

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