As influential in some circles as Zao has been over the years, the toll they have paid for such admiration from their peers has been heavy. In fact, the years of wear and tear finally boiled over when the group announced in early 2007 that they would largely become a studio band with little touring planned in support of any future releases. Such a bold decision has held true, but it was one wrought with consequences; most prominently the choice of their label Ferret Music to only press 8000 copies of this album worldwide.
Herein lies the problem though. It's not hard to fathom that it was the volatility and the love/hate relationship with the road that saw the band become the musical equivalent of a dialysis machine over the years. But it was also these same conditions that served as the fuel to their once scorching creative flame. With relative comfort and a level of stability they've rarely seen prior now in place, the band feel somewhat lost on "Awake?".
Thankfully the largely treble heavy retching that populated 2006's "The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here" has been abandoned. But the lack of vehemence behind the emotions found here from a band who helped to pioneer sonic exorcisms is somewhat troubling. Instead, the bitter rage and wrenched vocals exhibited on "Awake?" feel more like they're going through the motions with the most intent and heart being channeled into the increased usage of melodic clean singing. The latter of which repeatedly emerges during predictable breaks and while a notable attempt and broadening the bands repertoire, it suffers painfully from a rather dull dynamic range.
It's not like Zao are failing miserably or that they have become a shell of their former selves here though. It's just more along the lines that a lot of their latest material feels forced. That said, there's still some searing atmosphere and a wealth of the bottom heavy gnarled rhythmic riffing that the group have come to be known for. Hell, the ethereal harmonic squeals that haunt the albums title track alone show that there's some genuinely interesting ideas left in the tank. But it's hard not to wonder if the albums title could be also be posed as a question to the listener after being subjected to some of this albums more mediocre moments.
(2.5 / 5)