Zao The Well-Intentioned Virus2016 Observed/Observer Recordings
It’s been seven long years since Zao released “Awake?“—an album that was met by middling reviews and a timid response from a number of fans. For much of the intervening years, it seemed that Zao had gone quietly into the night. Despite enduring countless lineup changes that long since cycled through all their founding members, it appeared that the band—whose name essentially means ‘to live’—had finally met an untimely end.
Of course the past year or so saw a return to activity with shows and a new track or two, all of which led to this eleventh studio album, “The Well-Intentioned Virus“. Unlike the past two LP’s that preceded it, Zao aren’t necessarily taking risks on this effort. More often than not it feels like an embittered take on what has previously worked so well for them: gravely vitriolic metalcore.
Of course the mere genre classification of metalcore has become a dirty word in these modern times. But Zao hail from an era before meathead grooves, sappy clean choruses and electronic keyboard parts punctuated every measure of a song structure. Instead, they extol the kind of raw nerve aggression that you’d expect from eating a roll of tinfoil with a mouth full of fillings.
A scathing assault on the senses, they wretch out some particularly haunting notes and meld them to a rarely predictable assortment of assertive riffs and punishing breakdowns. Perpetually clouded by an engulfing cacophony of distortion and corrosive feedback, there are no firmly established lines to stay within here. Adding to the weight are the retched vocals which screech out cautionary tales of societal manipulation, addiction and crises of faith.
It’s a heady listen that retains many of Zao‘s hallmarks. The clean melodic singing that populates the careening “Apocalypse” (and to an extent “Haunting Pools“) sounds like it came right from a Poison The Well record, if not their own memorable dynamic numbers. The spoken word inner monologue of spirituality that appears throughout the latter half of album closer (“I Leave You In Peace“) also brings to mind past exploits. “Xenophobe“, with its pressing urgency and overdriven guitar lunges, also deserves mention for distilling elements of the classic Zao sound.
Praise aside, not much of what is delivered here really stands out went stacked up track to track, but a lot of that has to do with the chosen aural terrain. Much of “The Well-Intentioned Virus” feels like a bloody ground battle. There’s no soaring moments and few elegiac refrains to latch onto. Eventually claustrophobia and shellshock can set in, leaving the brief few asides the only respite from the unyieldingly acidic crush.
In a way, it’s almost fitting though as nothing about this album feels labored or sterile. Much like its namesake would suggest, there’s a vicious organic corruption here that rapidly spreads and takes over, will you be able to endure it?