zao-the-well-intentioned-virus-cover-2016Pennsylvania’s Zao needs no further introduction. One of metalcore’s pioneering bands influenced a huge swath of groups, mainstream and underground, with their chaotic riffing, pummeling rhythms, honest, heart-wrenching lyrics and venomous screaming of Dan Weyandt. And while the band endured quite the past (with pigeonholing by fans, both Christian and secular, shedding their Christian overtones, and line-up shuffles to where there are no original members left in the band), Zao continue to walk to the beat of their own drum while inviting the fans to come along. Seven years between albums, though, is quite the absence, even for a band who tours with decreasing frequency. However, a two-song teaser released last year provided a glimpse of what they were working on, and now The Well-Intentioned Virus is here and it features returning guitarist Russ Cogdell.

Right off the bat, “The Weeping Vessel” slowly and gently sets a somber mood with jangly arpeggios before the band lurches forward with a visceral riff interplay between Cogdell and fellow guitarist Scott Mellinger. Jeff Gretz pummels forth with some heavy fills, building tension without overpowering the guitars or Marty Lunn’s bass. Weyandt’s voice, once compared to Carcass‘s Jeff Walker, shows no signs of wear after years of vocal torture, sounding just as venomous as he did on 1998’s landmark Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest. His lyrics continue to amaze, giving perspective to what I assume is a miscarriage (“Procession to a grave/Unknown is the one we mourn/An entity lost its way/To this physical plane”) that’s, once again, spat out with a passionate anger that only Weyandt can provide. In other words, while sounding fresh and modern, it is still unflinchingly (and thankfully) Zao to its core.

The time off works to Zao‘s advantage, as The Well-Intentioned Virus showcases some of their best writing yet. Closer “I Leave You In Peace” could’ve fit right in on 2006’s viscerally ugly The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here in terms of heft and Gretz’s ridiculously heavy Neurosis-like drumming. “Xenophobe,” one of the two tracks released last year, sounds more frantic and impactful here. The lyrics also reflect the times with a sad, stark accuracy (“Implant a thought, sow the seed/Groom xenophobic racist steeds/Loud and dumb without folly/Shouting ‘Stop evolving Uber Alles'”). Even the singing voice of Mellinger improved immeasurably, as it gives songs like “Observed/Observer” and “Haunting Pools” a nice counterpoint to work with.

zao-band-2016
Yet, despite listening to the album repeatedly, I’m hard-pressed to find a standout track on The Well-Intentioned Virus. Mind you, this isn’t a dig towards the album. In the past, songs like “Lies of Serpents, A River of Tears,” “If These Scars Could Speak,” and “A Tool To Scream” clearly stuck out from the rest. No such claim can be made here due to how mature and vital it all sounds. Every song possesses a purpose on Virus. The warm, dynamic production also benefits the album. The bass remains audible without losing any heft, the guitars feel warm and heavy, and the drums sound organic and thick.

2016, despite all the loses and defeats, marks the Year of the Comeback. Candiria returned after a lengthy lay-off with a great album, and Metallicaalso made a record. And even though some some songs may feel a bit longer than necessary, Zao left the biggest mark for me this year. Just as their name means “alive” in Greek, so too does The Well-Intentioned Virus teem with vibrancy and urgency. Proof you can mature as a band without losing any intensity or integrity. I just hope the next album takes less than seven years, but this was well worth the wait. Highly recommended.


Rating: 4.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: vo mp3
Label: Observed/Observer Recordings
Websites: officialzao.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/ZAO.Official
Releases Worldwide: December 9th, 2016

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  • A DR9 metalcore record. Very interesting.

    • Grymm

      I know, right?

      The band did a great job here, musically and production-wise.

  • Reese Burns

    I’ve always said that when metalcore is done right, which it rarely is, you’ve got something special. Can’t wait to get my hands on this one!

    • Grymm

      Metalcore has joined nü-metal as a genre to abhor, but bands like Zao know how to grow, incorporate new ideas, and still sound like the Zao of old.

      Quite impressed by how this turned out.

  • Christopher

    I don’t know what I would label this band as “metalcore”, based on the embedded track and otherwise having never heard of them.

    • Grymm

      It kinda still fits, though.

      Until bands such as Bring Me the Horizon, As I Lay Dying, and the like turned metalcore into a barely-heavy screamo-fest, metalcore was a genre rife with bands who just happened to incorporate metal riffs with hardcore rhythms. Disembodied, Earth Crisis, early Heaven Shall Burn, and Zao held that spectrum down in the mid-to-late Nineties.

      Of course, when you mention “metalcore” these days, thoughts of dudes with lip-rings and flat-ironed hair wearing skinny jeans pop out, but that wasn’t always the case.

      • Christopher

        I’m no historian, haha. It just seems like it has more in common with early-mid 00’s post hardcore than what, as you said, passes as metalcore.

        • Grymm

          Oh, it’s definitely more post-hardcore than the crap parading around as metalcore these days.

          Also, whenever people talk about how bad all metalcore is, I point out bands like Disembodied and Zao to show that, when well played, it’s powerful and moving.

          • Reese Burns

            Early Avenged Sevenfold and Unearth were/are great too, it’s a shame a lot of the heaviness has been traded in for skinny jeans and hot topic scene credit.

          • Xenonn

            Unearth is still making quality music.

          • Christopher

            Despite the genre nitpicking I brought to the comments, it’s a damn good tune and an album I’m excited to check out.

      • The Unicorn

        As an original Syracuse native, I can say without hesitation that Earth Crisis “Gomorrah’s Season Ends” was a true turning point in HxC crossover to metal. That album still resonates like day one.

        • You must be a One King Down fan too.

          • The Unicorn

            Caged and oppressed!!! Their cries remain supressed!!! Falling victim to human violence!!! Falling prey to human silence…. Killing without necessity?? This ignorance enraging me!! Killing without necessity..Unrepentant!! Killers of the innocent, millions die with no real reason why- we consume to satisfy…We do not kill to stay alive!!! As a race we torture and we kill…In the name…OF A GOD GIVEN WILL!!!! What reasoning is this? Butchers, vivisectors- the KILLERS should be killed!!!!!!!!!!

          • The Unicorn

            Dont forget Snapcase. I actually auditioned for Godbelow- got asked into the band but I was getting married and the touring…my job..missed the boat. I think the drummer ended up in the clink, roid rage. Those were the days. The Lost Horizon HxC matinees. Unity scene in the pit. Not this bullshit kids pull these days.

          • jersey devil

            Snapcase–good call. Man I forgot about Snapcase. I used to listen to them a lot, had all their cds. I just went back and listened to “End Transmission”. Great stuff

          • Grymm

            Holy crap, I actually almost got killed seeing One King Down and Bane in Manchester, New Hampshire years ago.

            Such a great show, though!

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            How can you forget almost getting killed?

          • Grymm

            Very, very long story…

        • Overcast cast helped too.

        • brklyner

          In retrospect, yes, Earth Crisis, All Out War, Converge, Disembodied and Unbroken ushered in metalcore (in different ways). But at the time it was all just hardcore, with none of the baggage of shitty clone bands with generic breakdowns and garbage sing-along choruses. ’90s hardcore is full of real gems of innovative heavy music.

          • The Unicorn

            Couldn’t agree more.

        • AndySynn

          My love of Earth Crisis abides to this day. Though I was somewhat surprised to see them espousing some Republican and/or Libertarian style views in interviews over the last couple of years.

          Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course, I was just surprised.

          Anyway, VOD also need a mention. Because they rule.

          • The Unicorn

            Haha! I saw VoD art Hungry Charlies when the ceiling caved in on the pit! Ruled!!!

        • Dudeguy Jones

          Jeez you guys are killing me. I loved and love all of this shit. Funny how the terms change over the years, and how I didn’t even think of this as metal core at the time, not until much later, but this is what I was weaned on. Probably was at shows with some of you guys 20 years ago.

          I was thinking also, having recently seen Carcass, that no shows, as good as they’ve been, have ever been as good or kinetic or powerful as some of those 90’s hardcore shows. Some of the stuff is corny, and the scene was very reductive at times, but it made for very visceral stuff. Not to be forgotten.

          • The Unicorn

            Seeing bands like Candiria, All Out War, Blood For Blood, One King Down, Earth Crisis, Shelter, Sick Of It All, Strife, Judge, Youth Of Today, Operation Ivy, Inside Out etc back in the day really was exactly what you said – kinetic, visceral and true Unity scene. Nowadays…blech. HxC kiddies bringing their GF’s into the middle of the pit, then throwing down and group attacking one dude who bangs into their girl. My buddy got his nose broken at NEM&HCF for that shit. These fucks these days have no respect or sense of unity. And when you put the metalheads in the same pit as the floorpunchers and windmill kickers, it gets ugly fast…to no fault of the good natured metal dudes that just want a friendly circle pit.

          • Grymm

            I remember seeing Converge on the mid-to-late 90s, and having Kurt Ballou walking over the crowd without ever fucking up his parts. That, and him Mario-bouncing onto, and off of, people’s heads.

            Also, seeing people emulate Ezio from Assassin’s Creed by diving off of the balconies of the Worcester Palladium during their sets. It was insane back then.

          • The Unicorn

            Were you at the ‘fest for the Meshuggah Nothing tour? I took a size 13 to the back of the head seconds into the 1st song, what a show that was. Also, the LOG Wall of Death, jesus christmas that was pure carnage. I remember the year Opeth headlined, I was so whooped by the time they took to stage I fell asleep. I slept in the balcony for Amon Amarth too, if that was actully possible!

          • Grymm

            I wasn’t, but I saw Meshuggah WITH Opeth during one of the New England Metal and Hardcore Festivals. That was insane, too.

          • The Unicorn

            that was the one!!

          • Grymm

            Wow, okay!

            I remember Amorphis being on the bill as well, but not Amon Amarth. Must have been that Sunday (which I didn’t attend). And you can tell, even that early on, that Pasi Koskinen’s days with Amorphis were numbered.

          • The Unicorn

            My memory of shows runs together. I believe Amon Amarth was there with other bands for a regular show, not the Fest. I honestly cant remember. I went from 99-04 or so.

  • Frost15

    Wow! It’s been so long since I heard from these guys. I used to like them a lot. The embedded track is excellent. Will definitely check this.

  • Right now I’m trying to catch up with all the reviews from the last couple days and after an hour of constant atmospherical-post-whatever that noise was, this sounds refreshing as hell.

  • I used to hide/listen to their (totally outlawed) CDs in my dorm at Bob Jones University during my tenure as a fundamentalist Christian in the early 2000s. Couldn’t quit the metalz even as a born again haha.

    • Grymm

      Hey, Zao, Extol, and Lo-Ruhamah are great bands, regardless of faith.

      • ssorg

        don’t forget the almighty Strongarm (IMO the best of the bunch)

      • The Crucified’s self-titled one is great for some crossover punk/thrash. There’s even a song (“The Insult Circus”) where they take shots at Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax for whatever reason.

      • brklyner

        Training for Utopia was also pretty good. Not overtly Christian, but I think they were also on Tooth & Nail. Particularly the Falling Cycle EP. Kinda like Turmoil.

  • Name’s Dalton

    Does anyone else find it confounding that this band has none of its original members left in it? I’ve never listened to them before, but based on this fact alone, to me this would be Zao in name only.

    • Grymm

      If anything, if their name needed to be changed, it would have been back in 1997, when most of Zao (except drummerJesse Smith, who left before The Funeral of God came out in 2004) quit to pursue careers in the ministry. Dan and Russ both came on board on their second album, Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest, and that album was a HUGE departure from their debut, both musically and lyrically.

      I think that would make a great YMIO piece in two years time (came out in ’98).

    • Naw. The Zao we all know started with Daniel Weyandt tenure. Not a lot of people got to witness the formative years with Shawn doing vocals, and even less with Eric Reeder doing the vocals. Blood and Fire started it all for the Zao now.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Same happened to Napalm Death and Judas Priest. No founding members left. Long story from waaaay back in both cases.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Never heard of them, but sounds like this is a great place to start.

    Now, it’s Friday and I’ve had a few. Will someone tell me if that band photo is blurry?

    • Grymm

      Nah, they totally look normal.

      Here, have another drink. ;)

    • Start with Blood and Fire and work your way up. You won’t regret it.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        Thanks, will do.

    • [not a Dr]

      They are not blurry: it’s the unicorn’s pupa stage.

  • dedseed1

    Damn. Haven’t listened to these guys since the early 2000s. Completely forgot about them.

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    Happy you guys reviewed this, didn’t think it would see the light of AMG. Interviewed the band recently; they were very confident that this was one of their best releases in a long time and it most definitely shows. I can’t wrap my head around how good the intro to “Haunting Pools” is. The production is just gorgeous. Fantastic review!

    • It is indeed gorgeous. Speak up ABFF next time!

  • Diego Molero

    I really, really like the album cover. I saw it and was wishing it was from a good album and not a mediocre one.
    Glad that this is *really* good. Never heard of this band, but call me impressed.
    Great job, Grymm.

  • Goddamn, Grymm. That was a fantastic review!

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    I’m going to be the one wet blanket here.. And context / fairness I’ve only listened to the embedded track ‘A Well – Intentioned Virus’.
    I can’t see whats so good about it. I listened a couple of times it does sound good sure, but Ive heard this before. The vocals are monotonous the riffs are easy and unmemorable I can’t understand the lyrics and the delivery doesn’t inspire me to make the effort. There’s a couple of nice key change moments but overall and in my opinion (of course) this seems like by numbers nut punching hardcore/metalcore …
    Nice review but it’s a big pass for me

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Well, the review said it was metalcore right in the second line… ;)

  • AlphaBetaFoxface
  • brklyner

    To me Zao always seemed like the Stone Temple Pilots of metalcore. Just different enough to distinguish themselves from the pack and with at least one classic record (to me that’s unquestionably Liberate) to their credit. Upon first listen to Virus I’m missing the raw abrasiveness and super-heavy riffs of the older stuff. Might grow on me though, definitely worth digging into.

  • Gage

    Sorry but this sounds like crap to me

  • herrschobel

    oh boy..do i like this ! great review as well. complex, heavy and straight forward at the same time. How is this even possible ?

  • Shawn Cypher

    AOTY for me