Review Summary: The BULLDOZER of Theseus.
Fragments of Zao have surfaced with one of the best albums of their long and fruitful career. Who would have thought? With none of the founding members left in the actual line-up, singer, scribe and most veteran Dan Weyandt will take you through a nightmarish tour down a hallway of personal fears and mental health woes with the help of his bandmates. These are demons that he has fought openly throughout the years, and that are given voice and shape in the eleven tracks that shape up Zao's number twelve full length. The Crimson Corridor
proves Zao has transcended its members and become an entity of its own. Is this the flag ship of metalcore that helped to build the foundations of the genre through the end of the 90s and the beginning of the millennia? Most certainly, and not exactly.
As the first chords of "Into the Jaws of Dread" begin to howl, the track patiently builds a storm, with Jeff Gretz in control of its intensity, unleashing absolute pandemonium on his drum kit as Scott Mellinger and Russ Cogdell discharge a barrage of sound, leaving Martin Lunn’s bass to glue the whole thing together in what it finally becomes the entryway for Weyandt's hall of horrors. If this introduction doesn't drag you into The Crimson Corridor
, nothing else will, although consider having it checked because there's a good chance you have dropped your ears, along with your soul, somewhere on the way to this album.
The "Ship of Theseus" presents the band officially and goddamn it, we all get the analogy but it should have been a tank instead of a ship. With none of its original parts remaining, Zao still sounds as astonishingly good as they ever did, not only proving but demolishing any theories regarding their dominion thirty plus years after their conception. It's an anomaly, yes, but one that has managed to craft an album that stands with the times while carrying the torch of their sound in an exemplary exercise of balance, experience, and ambition. It shows in tracks like "Croatoan", or "Creator/Destroyer", which combine serenity with torment masterfully, pitting Mellinger's hazy and slightly distorted singing against Weyandt's frantic screams as a slick counterweight that helps to keep the album fresh, reminiscent of Mastodon at times, but wearing its own colors, as whispered in the mellow register that introduces a deep cut like "Nothing's Form".
Vocals are a strong case for The Crimson Corridor
, but they wouldn't be so if the fine-tuned machinery that is this version of Zao wouldn't provide the base for it. "R.I.P.W." and the title track, the spine of the album, are some of the heaviest and filthiest metal at this side of the year. Mandatory mention also to a closer like "The Web", that draws the curtains of an hour long record with ten minutes of unrelenting pummeling, following the conclusive introduction of the album’s theme, voiced by Mellinger, before the five-piece go ham on their instruments with a mournful anger so thick that you can practically feel its weight upon your own physical being.
The Zao of old still exists today, its essence somehow barely touched, but in 2021, the Pennsylvania crew are closer to the sludge of the swamp where Thou dwells, caped with a post metal love for grand finales and song-building majesty, than they are to the ephemeral fury of long-time tour mates Underoath. The Crimson Corridor
is a bone crushing bulldozer of relentless drumming, heart-squeezing riffs and venomous screams that paints the walls of Weyandt’s mind with poignant guitar melodies and a captivating approach to clean vocals. Fueled by the fantastic mixing work achieved by Dave Hidek, Zao breathes (heavily) again with newfound strength and resolve, writing and performing some of their best material in years, and yet again, setting the bar for newcomers to heights that not many will reach.