“The Ghost is the idea, the beautiful spark that gleams inside you for a moment and appears as a song. The Beast is the flesh and mechanics, the wood and steel your muscles wrestle with until The Ghost appears again and sings in clarity through them all.” Matthew Winter, the architect of Edinburgh’s Zed Penguin, is justly proud of his band’s debut album. It is a work that could have easily not happened at all. An intensely personal collection of songs, “A Ghost, A Beast” is a musical endeavour ripped out of the jaws of despair in a coup of brooding and discordant glory.
The story of Zed Penguin starts in the winter of 2004 when Aussie traveller Matthew Winter found himself in Scotland. Following an ill-fated attempt to secure a job on a fishing trawler, he arrived in Edinburgh, where he started making four-track recordings and putting them up on MySpace under the moniker Zed Penguin. Against his modest expectations, he was soon part of the city’s live music scene. By 2012, Zed Penguin was a four-piece that also included a Japanese composer Atzi Muramatso on cello, James Metcalfe (The Pineapple Chunks) on bass and Casey Miller (STONES) on drums. The same year Zed Penguin recorded two tracks on the Song, By Toad Split 12” Vol.2.
They were ready to start working on the debut album when one night, on his way home, Matthew suffered an attack that left him with severe head injuries. In a characteristically poetic yet resolute manner he remembers what followed: “After I got knocked unconscious, I felt I was floating outside of my body before circling back into it. Then I started getting these mad headaches, these attacks of neuropathic pain that were like bolts of incalculable electric agony or some fucking angry poltergeist, the worst sort of Ghost! The Beast was the wanton destruction that it consequently caused to my life. Everything I’d worked so hard to achieve was obliterated and smashed into pieces, like the priceless shards of porcelain. The Beast was in full swing.” And so the idea of the two opposing forces manifesting themselves in different contexts, locked in an eternal conflict, has emerged as the key theme of Zed Penguin’s debut that was recorded over a four-year period (“patching together all the overdubs as I was patching back together my actual life”) in an analogue studio ran by Winter’s friend Doug MacDonald.
The result is an unsettling, angry triumph rooted in Zed Penguin’s passion for guitars and musical inspirations found in the local scene (The Leg, The Pineapple Chunks), experimental maestros (Thurston Moore, Lee Ronaldo) and Aussie punk revolutionaries ( Rowland S. Howard, Kim Salmon).
“A Ghost, A Beast” is out on Song, By Toad on 23rd February 2018.