Zachary Ross and the Divine – Rebuilding Heaven [REVIEW]

When I heard Zac Ross was putting out new music, I was hyped. I was one of those kids who would get in trouble in high school for wearing the Man Overboard DEFEND POP PUNK t-shirts with the assault rifles on it. They were a big deal to high school me (okay and to adult me, too), so Rebuilding Heaven from Zachary Ross and the Divine was a release I was really looking forward to.

I’m happy to say that it’s just as great as I hoped it would be. If you have any interest in all-out emotional pop-punk anthems, this is going to click with you. Ross is a powerhouse songwriter, which is part of the reason why Man Overboard were such a big deal in the scene.

On Rebuilding Heaven, there are dashes of new wave and 80’s synth pop here that bring fresh elements to the classic pop-punk formula. Take, for example, the single “Push Start (Everyone Knows).” The track is about wanting to be with someone and knowing you can make them happy, but they’re “interested in literally anyone but you.”

That’s a pretty standard emo topic, but thanks to Ross’s penchant for anthemic songwriting and the drum machines and synths, the song still spins the classic formula into something unique. And, impressively, the track isn’t mean-spirited or overly mopey – a mistake made by a lot of other emo songs about the same thing. It’s catchy as all hell, and the wry delivery of “it’s not your fault, honey” is light-hearted enough to be charming but also petty enough to give the line a little sting.

All the tracks on the EP toy with the pop-punk standard a bit. “Angels Don’t Kill,” the album opener, kicks off with some passionate vocals and Blink-182-esque melodies, but also throws in some vocoder effects for good measure. “Weapon” starts with a clean acoustic before building into a more epic arrangement with a full band and strings. “Panic Button” is probably the most straightforwardly pop-rock track here, with crisp production and driving guitar solos.

But maybe what’s most striking here is how much more lyrically mature the tracks are compared to some of Man Overboard’s tracks. Ross himself said, “I’ve written some goofy stuff, like you wanna see something creepy? But it’s gotta be real this time.” This shift is most apparent on the heart-wrenching “A Light Over Massachusetts,” a track dedicated to Tim Landers of the bands Transit, Cold Collective, and Misser.

Landers tragically passed in 2019, and the song is about not only the grief of losing a friend, but the feeling that this entire music scene is missing something now. “It’s about how I truly feel we are all losing now, everybody who likes this type of music,” Ross said in our podcast episode with him. “We all lost, we don’t have something now that we should have.”

Somewhere out in ol’ MA, there’s a silent speaker with nothing to play. There’s a void in my head where your fucking voice should be.”

You can hear the grief, but at the same time, there’s a lot of energy to the track. Angry, reverent, exhilarating energy. It’s sad, of course, but it’s still a celebration – the kind of tear-jerking celebration that’s really only possible in this genre. It’s hard to think of a better tribute to a talented musician than this – writing a rousing song that crowds will clamor to sing along with; bringing a piece of him back to the scene at every show.

Though this is the only track that’s explicitly about Landers, the entire EP is imbued with tributes to him. All of those synths and drum machines? Those are there because Landers was a fan of them. It’s a subtle, moving way to keep his legacy alive, and try to fill in the gaps left by his loss. As Ross puts it in a statement, “I am doing everything I do for the rest of my career in his honor.”

That context helps elevate an already fantastic EP. Not only is this a fantastic return from Ross – it’s a beautiful, personal tribute to another great emo songwriter.

Rebuilding Heaven is out now via Smartpunk Records. You can follow Zachary Ross over on Twitter and Instagram. And don’t forget to check out our upcoming live stream with Zachary Ross and the Divine on 9/13!

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