Patience brings rewards. In the case of Immortal and Deceased – both bands who, despite starting off on a pretty good foot, have improved exponentially over the course of four-plus albums to become the modern masters of metal – patience brings very great rewards, indeed. Such is also the case with Zao. Early on, with their The Splinter Shards the Birth of Separation (1997) and Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest (’98) albums, the Christian quartet could rightfully have been called a B-grade Earth Crisis – punishing, but punishingly derivative nonetheless. Well, something magical must’ve happened in the past few years, because Zao return with a masterpiece in (Self-Titled).

Let me re-state and re-emphasize: the epitome of a masterpiece. As much as it threw these ears for a (rather jostling) loop, I’m sure glad it did, for perfection of this poetic and violent of a variety is utterly rare, metal or otherwise. In what could only accurately be called a miasmic maelstrom of monolithic proportions, Zao’s fourth full-length platter finds the band working up a sweat laced with fire and brimstone, rust and rabies, a smartly jackhammering sound that absolutely devastates physically and sinfully smolders emotionally, with both cold-hearted precision and feverish execution guiding their every mammoth move.

At the album’s core is a dynamic tug ‘n’ thrust, one that unfolds slowly yet obviously, as one hypnotic passage slyly (and, sometimes, not so) segues into the next, one track fades out and into the next, the sum effect rendering itself in a lucidly nightmarish pace: You see the omnipresent horror inching ever closer, but stand paralyzed as it envelopes you whole. Granted, all this may be difficult to fathom of a band coming from a hardcore background, but what Zao create here stands well outside the dogmatic boundaries of metalcore, the record squarely landing itself alongside the tar-chick avalanche-chug of Neurosis, Godflesh, and Isis; rest assured, though, Zao can kick up shit, and well, when they want to, particularly on the sporadically galloping album-opener, “5 Year Winter,” and the stutter-crush of “The End of His World” (compelling song titles, no?). Best of all, much of these happenings are augmented by the band’s newfound knack for melody, a strain of which is so deliciously mournful, so thoroughly manic-depressive, you can’t help but wonder if Zao read up on their Opeth records during the album’s songwriting process (best example: the brilliant “The Dreams That Don’t Come True”).

Still, all these astounding advances wouldn’t be worth a damn if they weren’t coated in crystalline, headphone-ready layers of destructive ambience, and that certainly proves true on (Self-Titled), especially band leader Jesse Smith’s mildly mechanized drums and lead growler Dan Weyandt’s suffocating, harrowing, just plain evil vocal tracks. A molten-lava mantra for the metallic set, (Self-Titled) could very well become a “classic” in some circles, a record that communicates and absorbs on a myriad of levels – so many, in fact, it might someday soon rub shoulders with Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, Godflesh’s Streetcleaner, Darkthrone’s Transylvanian Hunger and Sleep’s Jerusalem, all albums that are infinitely more than a mash of shredded decibels and are actually transcendental and otherworldly in their dark, dream-like beauty. Yes, that’s right: beauty, and that’s precisely what Zao’s (Self-Titled) is. Call me cold and alone on this one, but this album kills.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Nathan T Birk
February 27th, 2001


  1. Commented by: fightingmike

    I still love this record. The density of the music is massive and the mournful feeling of the songs make this a really cohesive record and Daniel Weyandt’s vocals are so venemous and gnarly!

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