Review Summary: An album that spreads through you and takes hold.
When we last saw Zao release a full length album it was in 2009 with Awake?
, an album that, while great for the most part, felt too formulaic and standard for Zao. Much of the album fell into the formula of heavy verses and melodic choruses with clean vocals that has become a standard with today’s metalcore bands. There were some moments, such as “What Will You Find?” that harkened back to the more chaotic, frantic, and heavier days of the band, as the song was filled with fast-paced technical riffs and drums, but moments like this were few and too scattered across the album.
After the release of Awake?
, Zao seemed to disappear without much word until resurfacing again in 2015 with the release of Xenophobe/Fear Itself
, a two song EP that saw the blistering riffs return and an even more vicious sounding Dan Weyandt back at the helm. These two songs reminded fans of the frantic Zao found on earlier classic albums Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest
and Liberate Te Ex Inferis
. What this EP most importantly showed though was a band that sounded reinvigorated and excited to be playing music again. Some of this, no doubt, could be attributed to the return of guitarist Russ Cogdell, last seen on 2004’s The Funeral of God
, but the time away seemed to be the most important key.
Enter The Well-Intentioned Virus
, which sees Zao firing on all cylinders, sounding just as good as ever. The same line-up that released Xenophobe/Fear Itself
is back and pummeling listeners with harrowing and vicious vocals and fast, melodic, and technical riffs and drums. For the harrowing, fast, and chaotic, songs such as "Jinba Ittai" and "The Sun Orbits Around Flat Earth Witch Trials" go for the throat with no regards for mercy. Full of intense and angry riffs, drums, and vocals, these two tracks show that Zao can still shred and assault listeners with its sonic fury. While the chaos remains from start to finish, Zao still experiment with more melodic moments. Examples include “Broken Pact Blues” and “Xenophobe,” songs that blister forth from their start but are halted midway through by melodic breaks before picking up again. Even with its melodic break, “Xenophobe” still remains one of Zao’s most vicious and heaviest songs to date. Fast and pounding drums work in tandem with spastic riffs that serve as a desperate backdrop for Weyandt to spit out lyrics describing fear and xenophobia. He ends the song with, "It must be hell to live in fear."
In contrast, "Xenophobe" is juxtaposed by the most melodic and atmospheric song on the album, as the two are placed together back-to-back. “Apocalypse” sees clean vocals by guitarist Scott Mellinger, who sounds the best he has on any Zao album, take center stage. He takes control of the song, providing cleans over eerie, calm, and drawn-out guitars before handing the reigns back over to Weyandt halfway through, when he frantically belts “Signal the apocalypse” and later “Conjure the apocalypse” over an outburst of violent riffs that succumb back to calm as Mellinger enters back to finish the song.
With The Well-Intentioned Virus
, Zao return back to the metalcore landscape and deliver their best album since The Funeral of God
. Without the pressure of a label (the album released through Zao’s own Observed/Observer Recordings) to rush the band, Zao worked and wrote this album at their own pace. As a result, the band sounds even more reinvigorated and passionate than even a year prior. While Awake?
may have seen the band just going through the motions, The Well-Intentioned Virus
shatters all of that, giving us a much more focused Zao. Throughout its 20+ year run as a band, Zao has always been about reinventing itself with each album while still maintaining a distinct, “Zao” sound. The band has never been afraid to venture outside its comfort zone and release albums that take time to fully sink in. Just like a virus, this album spreads through you on first listen, but it’s the multiple listens after where everything-vocals, lyrics, guitars, drums, and atmosphere-begins to fully take hold.