Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 21/4
The Well-Intentioned Virus
Written by: PP on 29/03/2017 23:46:57
With the smothering amount of new releases last year by seemingly every band active or inactive, one reunion album nearly passed by our radar unnoticed: Zao's return from a seven-year hiatus with their 11th full-length "The Well-Intentioned Virus". Although never having captured the masses, the band's cult status among those in the know is indisputable: starting from their third album "Where Blood And Fire Bring Rest" in 1998, the band delivered one majestic masterpiece after another with releases that were so far ahead of their time they were ultimately misunderstood by the scene during the time of their respective releases. Their influence was far-reaching, however, paving the way for the likes of Shai Hulud and As I Lay Dying, whose masterpiece debut album "Beneath The Encasing Of Ashes" owes everything to Zao's legacy releases "Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest" and "Liberate Te Ex Inferis".
Since then, of course, the band has delivered a plethora of albums that have had a profound impact on the genre. But enough history. Yours truly was first introduced to the band's trademark harrowing, cheese grater style vocal delivery encompassed in confined claustrophobia on 2006's "The Fear Is What keeps Us Here", and "The Well-Intentioned Virus" is every bit as devastating as I remember it from a decade ago. Much like 2009's "Awake", another underappreciated classic in the making that never received the attention it deserved from the public, the new album is a challenging, complex album that explores virtually every corner of the metalcore scene from the epic and progressive to the tight and cacophonous to the experimentalist and unconventional.
Groovy guitars are liberally intermixed with cold, barren instrumental landscapes recalling The Psyke Project and punishing heavyweight riffage that redefines what it means to sound heavy as a metalcore band. Forget about guitar compression and other Rise Records production trickery, Zao's unadulterated approach demonstrates what it truly means to sound raw and unpolished. Yet the band's expression is unique - it's not just about sounding brutal and uncompromising: experimentalism and innovation run deep in their veins. Whether it's odd time signatures, rhythm changes or a complete revolution around the entire genre spectrum within a single song, "The Well-Intentioned Virus" delivers one of the most original and challenging expressions you'll have heard in a while.
A good example is a track like "Apocalypse", a nearly seven-minute mammoth that features melancholy in the vein of what you can find on a Nevermore or a Paradise Lost record. It's a progressive track that combines a sense of nostalgia and yearning with hauntingly beautiful atmospherics contrasted against screeching brutality and cacophony. In other words, a quintessentially Zao track that's impossible to draw parallels to in terms of stylistic similarities to other bands. Likewise, "Observed/Observer" tracks a melancholic melody line vs. unrecognizable vocal distortion in an equally impressive example of contrasting elements. "Haunting Pools" even echoes Fear Factory with its faded-back, industrial clean vocals. See what I mean about experimentalism?
On the opposite side, you have "Xenophobe", a tearing track that sounds like UK's equivalent cult band Beecher one moment, transitioning into a Devin Townsend Project-like song right after, finishing in the unmelodic rampage of Converge's most brutally tinged material. Much like "Broken Pact Blues" and "Jinba Ittai", it's a track that both challenges and perplexes its listener.
In the end, this has always been the blocker between Zao and a meteoric rise to the top of metalcore: their albums are such ridiculously challenging listens. The require weeks, if not months of absorption, re-listening, paying attention, peeling away the layers of brutality and pasting them back over again, before the songs begin to flourish as some of the most majestic metalcore tracks the genre has seen. "The Well-Intentioned Virus" proves once again that Zao is one of the, if not the most underappreciated band within metalcore.
Download: Apocalypse, Observed/Observer, Broken Pact Blues, Jinba Ittai
For the fans of: The Psyke Project, (old) As I Lay Dying, Shai Hulud, Remembering Never, Beecher, Converge
Release date 09.12.2016