Review: Zebra Infernum by Sonic Underworld

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Sonic Underworld have taken Zebra to a dystopian robot planet and returned to earth with the grittiest synth presets this side of the sun.

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Review: Zebra Infernum by Sonic Underworld

Fresh on the heels of their previous ambient Zebra soundset comes a collection of presets that is the total opposite. If Aquatica was Yoda chilling out on Dagobah with his DAW, then Infernum is what you get if you locked Darth Vader in a cupboard with nothing to do but craft 180 presets. These are distorted, mangled, haunting and dark and Sonic Underworld pushed Zebra almost to breaking point with some of these sounds.

Overview

Zebra Infernum sells for $35 from Sonic Underworld

Thoughts

Experienced users of Zebra will be aware that there is more than one way to skin a cat when it comes to adding distortion and the synth programming here clearly demonstrates that. Every patch here has some form of grit in it, but it comes from a variety of sources which results in a large range of distorted characteristics. Sometimes it is an overdriven filter, other times using the oscillator FX. Some sounds add in the shape, fold or distortion modules to the lanes and if that is not enough the final FX section is often employed to provide additional shaper and distortion options. For many of the presets a combination of distortion stages is used to create different colours of pure filth.

Distortion Types

All the regular synth types are here and I will run through them in more detail. The arps kick things off and there is quite a range, from glitchy pulses to complex melodic sequences and beyond that to saturated bell tinkles. Once you start moving the XY pads some of these almost sound like complete cues in themselves! The bassline and bass presets are downright dirty and evoke brooding, tense atmospheres. Occasional syncopation, noisy fizzes and heavy modulation give them a real organic motion. Arguably these are my favourite sounds in this collection.

 

Bass Example

Now, the drums are odd because there are only five, but each one seems to totally nail a type of sound that most of us always need and can then further tweak to get it working just right. There is a sub hit, a ringy hi-hat, a cutting impact, a distorted rumble and a nasty resonant metal drum – don’t overlook them as staple starting points for these types of sounds.

The FX reveal some pretty far out textures. There are spinning, warping noises, dissonant bells and spitting glitches. Each is very distinctive and could form ‘hooks’ in sound design heavy compositions. The pads are haunting and use less obvious distortion, instead sounding more gently saturated, whilst still being suitably epic. The pulses are a bit like a combo of the FX sounds with the arp sounds. PL Starling is a real star with some sinister overdriven accents. The soundscapes are pure dystopian nightmare and would provide the perfect backdrop as part of music for horror and thriller genres, or as sound design in it’s own right.

 

Soundscape Example

25 synth presets complete this collection and we are into aggressive lead territory here! There is no shortage of inspiring presets, but one that caught my ear as I played through was the Plasticum patch. Although the core of the preset only consists of one half saw oscillator and one filter, it just goes to show what can be achieved in Zebra in the deft hands of an expert programmer. It actually uses an early version of the Diva BITE lowpass filter, which was a previous mistake in Zebra that was reintroduced for compatibility, but it works great here as it has plenty of gritty clout. This is driven hard and fed into the fold waveshaper that does much of the heavy lifting as far as distortion is concerned. The signal path then passes through a compressor, shaper, further foldback distortion, delay and reverb resulting in a rip-roaring, fuzzed up super lead that is so much fun to play. Four fully featured XY controllers mean it is instantly tweakable. An LFO on the volume keeps it moving and the mod wheel connects to the hard sync, which sends the sound to another level of space metal!

SY Plasticum Preset

Every preset in Infernum is easily morphed via either the modwheel or up to four XY pads. Some of these moves can be subtle, whilst others give a drastic change. However, perhaps one of the best ways to use such a sample set is to get in there and use it as a starting point to create something that is truly unique, by adding more oscillators, changing the filter type and suchlike. Therein, for me personally at least, lies the true value of such brilliant sound sets such as Infernum and that is as sounds to inspire your own creativity that you can bend to your own precise aesthetic. More than once whilst playing through these sounds I started coming up with the starting point of a piece and had to keep saving a new session so I did not lose the idea and forget the associated preset! Now THAT is what I really want from a preset pack.

 

XY Pads

My only real criticism of this collection is that many of the patches are really loud and some even lit my meters up red when I started using the modwheel. In practice what this means is when you bring it up within a session it can give you a real shock, as it’s much louder than most of the other libraries and synths I use. I am not sure why they have maxed out the volume so much, as this is really not an issue with all of us working at at least 24bit. However, it does show what a great product this is if my only grumble is that the output level is a little bit loud!

Sonic Underworld continue to bring a filmic intensity to their programming and everything here is geared more towards hybrid media composition rather than anything on the EDM spectrum. Not to say it would not work for certain types of electronic artists, but it would be fairly safe to assume this is not the type of preset pack David Guetta will be pining for. Which makes it all the more attractive to me quite frankly! This is a bit cooler and more left field than the mainstream – more like the sort of thing Trent Reznor or Clint Mansell would be inclined to use. The dark, distorted sonic theme is really powerful and consistent throughout and each patch is superbly crafted. When you combine this with such a wide variety of sound types it is clear that Zebra Infernum is another red hot collection from Sonic Underworld.

Facts

Infernum consists of 180 presets for Zebra. There is a very comprehensive (and lengthy!) walkthrough on the Sonic Underworld website which plays through every preset, so I strongly recommend you check it out to decide if this soundset is for you.

Zebra Infernum sells for $35 from Sonic Underworld

 

Demos of Zebra Infernum by Sonic Underworld

Videos of Zebra Infernum by Sonic Underworld