ZAO - The Well-Intentioned Virus - (7/10)
Published on January 19, 2017
Zao are no strangers to the metal/metalcore scene. While their line-up has been hit and miss over the years, and there have been breaks occasionally, the band has existed since 1993, forming in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. While there are plenty of those who may dismiss the band instantly due to religious beliefs, or deem them not metal (they still cannot find a place on the Encyclopedia Metallum), they have been creating some very intense metal/metalcore for quite some time and have developed a strong following as well. For the first time since 2009, the band is releasing new music, in the form of The Well-Intentioned Virus from their own Observer/Observed Recordings, partnered with Holy Mountain Printing. The newest Zao release also features the studio return of Russ Cogdell in his first album appearance since The Funeral Of God in 2004.
The album begins quite promising with some melodic notes before of course the harshness of the music and vocals kick in. It would be hard to say that Zao has changed much over the years, especially over the last decade or so. The guitars are noisy, but have a solid structure to creating riffs being able to change up when needed to allow the song to breathe or simply move forward. There are some very atonal riffs on the album but still plenty of melody as well being placed throughout ad accompanying the faster and heavier sections. The vocals are just as intense as they have ever been in the Zao camp, wth Dan sounding as strong as ever and utterly vicious. The vocals are mostly kept to a scream on the album, but there are few moments of clean vocals. The clean vocals do help break up the admittedly monotonous sound of the screams, but they also come off somewhat weak at times. There is such power behind the screams that the clean vocals feel lackluster in comparison, at least on certain tracks.
Despite some great moshing and head banging moments on the record, and a clear rejuvenated band, there is still some aspects of Virus that sadly keep this record from being something more. The album does seem to get better with repeated spins, each time something new being heard and finding moments to enjoy that had perhaps seemed to pass by before, there is still this sense that the record feels too much like the same. The genre itself of course has seen plenty of bands come and go over the years, and while Zao has always been solid, there is also the sense that things get repeated too much. The tracks bleed together seamlessly, but they also don’t have too much to distinguish themselves from the others. The middle of the record feels interchangeable with each track coming across too much like the prior. While there were probably no expectations for Zao to reinvent the wheel or take a major left turn to their sound, the album still doesn’t do much to stand out from a slew of bands in the scene with them or albums that have come out since their last release. There is some definite passion being felt on the recordings, but the sense of nothing really standing out relegates many tracks to feeling like background music.
Zao are back, most likely to the chagrin of many and the delight of many others. There is no denying that the band has been solid for quite some time and has a back catalogue of some very good to great material, so fans of the band will find plenty to enjoy about The Well-Intentioned Virus. The album is still very much Zao, so it also won’t be likely to change the minds of those who were not fans before, but anyone who would be a fan of prior material or just simply have an open mind to the band or style should be satiated with this release. Despite some gripes and issues with variety on the album, the songs are not bad by any means and there is still some great musicianship and vigor being felt over these 42 minutes.