The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Zmar Brings a Beautiful World to Wild Culture

Often when I find out about DIY shows in Iowa City, it’s through the immortal media form of posters stapled up to wooden telephone poles and bulletin boards. In about late March of this year, I saw a stark black one with a Jacob Lawrence like silhouette sitting and holding a guitar, advertising a Monday night show at Wild Culture. On the poster, the names of the bands were Niboowin, who were billed as “Blackened post hardcore from Michigan,” and Zmar, a skramz band who came from Prague, Czechia.  

Having a band make its way from the other side of the world, from a major European city not entirely well known to Americans, just to play at the back of a kombucha shop in the Midwest, greatly intrigued me. Upon seeing their name on the poster, I was determined to check it out. Zmar played second on the night. The first band that played was from Davenport, and had one of those spindly, hard to read black metal logos on the poster. They honestly weren’t really that enjoyable, so I’m not going to try and decipher their name or write much about them. 

Zmar though, were extremely enthralling. They played songs from their album Napořád which was released in May of last year. Vocals were howled and hissed like they were in desperation for survival. The lyrics in Czech emphasize this notion, with them being about manmade issues like patriarchy destroying the lives of women, and war wrecking the reality of many. It stabs at the most intrinsic of reactions.  

Napořád Album Cover. Image via Zmar

Backing this are these suspensions of dark, chaotic, and clouded instrumentation. It gave the songs a somewhat desolate atmosphere. Behind nearly each one though is this rupturing feeling of optimism, like streaks of light gleaming through the slits in the clouded dust. It builds the sentiment that if we try and stand up against systems of oppression, we can carry the world into a better place, even through all the pain and wreckage that it faces now. Even within the chords it would resolve on an uplifting hopefulness, and then ground itself in a tumultuous reality, before oscillating back again. It wills beauty into an unsightly world. 

It mirrored the images of the performance. The dark figures of the band were backlit by a spotlight angled on the ground, kind of like a low rising sun radiating on the peaked edges of dark mountains. Each member played with an unfeigned energy and immense vivaciousness. Despite the small, cold blue room that was still sparse with people, Zmar were able to transmit electricity through the few bodies of conduction that were there. It’s something that they are used to. Michal, the band’s vocalist, told me that small, tucked away venues like Wild Culture Kombucha were what they were used to playing in. For me, the piercing hopefulness of their performance reached that holy moment of fantastic live art where it sent literal chills coursing across my skin. 

Full Zmar set at Wild Culture

Zmar came through Iowa City after playing Zegema Beach Records’ ZBR Fest, which got silly to say the least, during that weekend in Chicago. Coming along with them was screamo band Niboowin who gave just as great of a performance. Their new album giving in would come out later that week. Their set consisted of tearing, dynamic tracks with band members sometimes interchanging lyrics. Each song was lashed out in real visceral expression. Both bands are putting out some of the most musically spirited and emotionally punctual screamo.