Lodestar / Zonen Marks A Powerful Comeback After 27 Years

The deluge of emails into MetalTalk can make things difficult to spot. It is impossible to deal with them all. A new album after a 27-year break was enough for me to listen to Surrender To The Tide, a single from Lodestar. Instantly grabbing my attention, some Columbo-inspired research on a train ride into London has left me with massive respect for Desertfest-bound Lodestar. 

Lodestar – Zonen

Release Date: 17 May 2024

Words: Steve Ritchie

It was to be a busy day in London. I had arranged chats with Kill The Lights, Kris Barras and Josiah J Manning, although The Kris Barras Band had to pull out, rightly worried about Kris’ voice. On the back of Surrender To The Tide and some on-train internet-based research, I hastily managed to add a chat with Lodestar to the day’s to-do list.

An email search before I left led to me downloading the Polaris album by Lodestar for a listen on the train. I got about six tracks in, and it’s not a bad album at all, but it seemed miles away from the single Surrender To The Tide. 

After more frantic Internet searching, it turned out I had downloaded the album Lodestar, a two-piece band hailing from Canada that crafts immersive Doom/Gothic Metal. The Canadian Lodestar were formed in 2020 amidst the chaos of the pandemic.

“Is it Doom Metal?” Heitham Al-Sayed, vocalist from Lodestar, said when we spoke outside The Lexington. “I heard something. It was like this kind of sci-fi thing with a girl singing. It’s kind of weird. We haven’t done anything for 27 years. So, I think other people thought it was pretty safe to say that we can have this name.”

Heitham was with the rap/rock band called Senser in the early ’90s. The singles Eject and The Key were released in 1993, with the March 1994 single Switch entering the UK Singles Chart at Number 39. Their debut album, Stacked Up, followed in May, entering the UK Album Chart at Number 4. 

There was a short tour of Japan in 1994 though Heitham was troubled by his voice. The years of groundwork touring in a white van, belting out high-intensity shows, had led to a record deal and lots more shows. With an infection, Heitham would scrape through the tour. A 1995 UK Tour with Skunk Anansie followed before Senser would tour the United States with Moby.

Heitham, along with fellow Senser members Alan ‘Lord Hagos’ Haggarty and John Morgan, would co-found Lodestar in 1996. “I needed a break,” Heitham said. “I wanted to do a thing where it’s not rap music, really. There’s a little bit of rap on that first [self-titled, 1996] album. One track has a kind of rap delivery, spoken word sort of thing. 

“But I wanted to do something that was just singing, and Johnny and Hagos wanted to do it. We just did one album together. I needed a break from Senser because I had been doing it for a long time. Senser is still going. We’re on our sixth album now.”

The impact of Lodestar was immediate. Two singles and an album found the band touring with Tool. “We went with Dub War as well,” Heitham said. 

Dub War would evolve into Skindred. “We went on tour with a couple of weird, heavier indie bands from London,” Heitham said. “Just anyone, really. We just went on tour with anyone.”

Lodestar was a bright if very brief, spell. “We wanted to do it,” Heitham said. “We were taking it all one day at a time. I honestly can’t remember exactly how it kind of unravelled. We did one cool record. I don’t want to say musical differences because we had only just arrived. Musical differences usually evolve over time. I honestly can’t remember, but it didn’t hold together.”

Looking at the first incarnation of Lodestar from the outside, the fact that the press picked up on the band quickly, the album was well received by music fans, too, and the tours that followed make it seem weird that it ground to a halt. 

“I think holding a band together is really, really hard,” Heitham said, “especially when everyone’s in their twenties. It was just a frustrating time in general to be doing this kind of music in England. You hadn’t had that big kind of wave there. There was nothing like Desertfest. Roadburn didn’t exist.”

This was also at a time when the grunge era was finally grinding to a halt. “We had a lot of older influences,” Heitham says, “and we wanted to do stuff that was just a bit weirder. It was just a weird time to do it, and it just didn’t hold. Me, Johnny, and Hagos are really tight still. It’s hard to explain. I don’t even know, actually.”

Heitham says the idea to get back together was really simple. “It wasn’t let’s have another go,” Heitham says. “Hagos just made some cool demos. I thought this is good. This is really strong. We [Heitham and Johnny] recorded our parts to it. It just sounded like this is a record. Hagos is very prolific and puts out a lot of music. We could basically choose this one, no, not that one. I don’t know about that one. Or we could even try things, and if it doesn’t really sit… Hagos just had a load of musical ideas, to be fair. It’s his drive in terms of the song structures and the music.”

I say that when you consider their backgrounds, I was surprised with the heaviness of Surrender To The Tide. There is a riff and style that you think Tony Iommi would be proud to have written. “I’ve done three albums with a band called Fiend in France,” Heitham says, “which is very heavy, really much more kind of sludgy, psychedelic, doomy kind of a band. Back in the ’90s, we would do Sabbath covers, we would do N.I.B. We would do Captain Beefheart covers, The Damned.

“Just any fucking song that we liked. [Lodestar is] not like a tribute band, but there are moments when you can hear what it is. We’re not hiding it. There are [also] some bits where it’s much more ambiguous, and you can’t quite put your finger on it. There’s some King Crimson bits and some Sabbath bits where you’re like, OK, that’s clearly that.”

Finally, the new album Zonen will be released on 17 May 2024, some 27 years after its predecessor. Lodestar are joined by Charlie Beddoes on bass, and her rumbles under the excellent first single, Bring Me The Head, will be a thrill to witness live. 

Bring Me The Head is a delight of heavy psychedelic rock and is another shining example from an inspired album which Heitham describes as very eclectic.”

Flame was the most recent single, a song “like a plot for a film that never existed,” The band said. “It feels like a murder or an accident has been badly covered up, and the killer is about to be discovered. Flame reminds me of a James Ellroy quote, ‘The great theme of film noir is, You’re fucked’.”

The animated video for Flame is by visual artist Deborah Sheedy. “The visual concept came from pondering the song’s title,” Deborah said, “and the elemental composition of fire itself. Contemplating the intricate life that could exist within its fiery embrace. Flames comprised predominantly of carbon dioxide, water vapour, oxygen, and nitrogen served as the catalyst for my inspiration.”

Zonen stands to be in my top 10 albums of the year. It’s not all Iommi-inspired riffing. There is so much variety of inspiration in there, that it makes for an engrossing on a train ride into London for shows. It’s a grower, too, like the best albums are.

What is great is listening to the album and contemplating the passage of time, the relationships between the band members, which span decades, and how, along their journey of musical inspiration, things have changed. 

“That first Lodestar album, there was similarity between that and Senser,” Heitham says. “We just do what we want to do. It doesn’t have to please one person or another. It just has to be a good record that people are going to be like, what the fuck is this? The kind of records that we like, even all the Sabbath records, they don’t sound the same. The songs on them are all weird and different. There’s weird stuff… Planet Caravan.

“Zonen is very eclectic. There are a little bit of strange time signatures. You can hear Bitch Magnet. You can hear The Jesus Lizard. You can hear all that weird stuff in there.”

You can catch Lodestar at Heartbreakers in Southampton on 18 May 2024. The band then appear at Desertfest at Dingwalls on Sunday, 19 May 2024.

Buy the album and catch them live. It’s going to be a wierd, but totally fun ride. I’m in.

Lodestar – Zonen is available from linktr.ee/lodestarband.

Lodestar – 1996

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