After spending several weeks at Trax East Studios in New Jersey, Zao -- longtime guitarists Scott Mellinger and Russ Cogdell, vocalist Dan Weyandt and the new rhythm section of Sean Koschick (bass) and Steven Peck (drums) -- has delivered the most powerful, the most concise and the most electric album of their storied and influential career.
Only a handful of bands have left a mark on the underground scene as vital, as potent and as completely authentic as Zao. Their heartbroken yet desperately optimistic vision, one that could only have been shaped deep in the inner entrails of the American Northeast, is delivered with all of the subtlety of a massive head trauma, the complexity of the human eye and the passion of a poet's soul.
In the early 1990s every Metalcore band sounded the same. That is, until Weyandt brought his poetic musings to the already established Zao camp with 1998's "Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest." After that, everyone started sounding like Zao.
Zao combines elements of Bay Area thrash metal, precision tuned Carcass-like speed metal and the hard-fought credibility of hardcore with a dark vision that recalls Nick Cave, Danzig or Johnny Cash, and the (perhaps even dubious) lilt of British pop music and the more avante-garde outer reaches of rock n' roll.
Weyandt's deeply personal connection with audiences, Codgell and former guitarist Brett Detar's on-stage guitar flailing and Jesse Smith's percussive pounding quickly became the stuff of legend, as clubs were laid waste by their bare-boned and impassioned savagery.
"Unable to remember/ Unable to forget," Weyandt has screamed, inviting strangers inside to a mind stricken by the death of loved ones, paralyzed by fear, and desperate for survival, to move ahead through art and the search for beauty.
"Blood and Fire" remains a seminal record, and following the departure of Detar (who now fronts the Juliana Theory), "Liberate te ex Inferis" began a songwriting partnership between Weyandt and guitarist Scott Mellinger that persists to this day. "Savannah" is one of the best songs ever written, in the scene or anywhere else, detailing with savage simplicity the rise and fall of a real-life porn star, whose suicide proved that "the machine bleeds." The record conceptually follows a descent into hell, and man's never ending quest to escape inevitable fate, ending with a dark musical landscape that builds to a crescendo with dizzying effect.
"Self-Titled" was even more musically adventurous, recalling everything from Neurosis to Nine Inch Nails, all topped off with the completely uncontrived delivery of its capable members, and their by now trademark cryptic storytelling. There's a parable about a man's murder, a fierce backlash toward their gossiping critics, an interlude into a tortured psyche, "racing, racing toward it, like when I was a small boy."
"Parade of Chaos" (and the re-recorded version of their "All Else Failed" debut) were intended to be swan songs, but Zao, like the forces that drive and sustain them, is a spirit that will not rest.
Steven Peck -- Cogdell and Weyadnt's mate from their early hardcore band Seasons in the Field -- has come aboard to fill the drum position left vacant by Jesse Smith, who after many long years departed to pursue his own projects. Peck's jazzy but powerful pummeling locks perfectly in place with Koshick's fluid bass work, infusing the Zao of "The Funeral of God" with a bottom end like never before.
Weyandt was briefly separated from the group on a couple of occasions but returned to the fold with new vigor and passion, penning his most haunting set of lyrics to date for the band's first album on their new home, Ferret Recordings. "Praise the War Machine" and "The Rising End" are sure to join "A Fall Farewell" and "Five Year Winter" as solid firepower in the band's live arsenal, as "Breath of the Black Muse" already stunned audiences before the record was even released.
New rounds of touring have proven this to be the definitive Zao line-up: and soon, the unleashing of "The Funeral of God" upon the masses will ensure, once and for all, Zao's place in heavy music history.