If you care enough about metal, hardcore or even just the heavier side of music, chances are you have heard of Zao. There’s an even bigger chance you’re a dedicated fan.
They date back to 1993 with their debut release of All Else Failed dropping in 1995. Despite constant line up changes, religious affiliation confusion, and a need to just be their own entity, Zao has traversed a hard journey that has undoubtedly produced some of the most stark and honest metal(core) ever written.
Subtly defining their own genre, Zao won over legions of fans in the metal communities, and have since been the quiet yet bombastic force of music nature to be reckoned with; albeit graciously.
Zao is a beast that everyone tried to lock up in a cage, but they proved that if you just let them out – they won’t hurt anyone – but their growls will be heard throughout the world!
With staple legendary albums such as Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest (1998), from 1999 to 2009, Zao has been releasing some very solid albums that wake up the listener and push the boundaries in metal originality.
Now, with the line-up back to it’s core (not original) members – Daniel Weyandt, Scott Mellinger, Russ Cogdell, Marty Lunn and Jeff Gretz – this new album has everything it needs to propel this legendary underground band into the next decade.
The Well Intentioned Virus is Zao’s first studio album in 7 years, and the 11th studio album. If you have been a fan since the 90’s then you probably will be more critical of this newer release, but let’s see how it stands alone…
Quickly, to take into account all that Zao has previously done, they are a metalcore band at the root, but have smartly evolved and grown their sound and style. This newer material seems to blend their strengths and ability to flawlessly experiment with guitars and vocals; Daniel Weyandt has always been a ferocious lizard-like screamer, while writing deeply personal lyrics that beckon the most uncomfortable of thoughts from the reader/listener.
“The Weeping Vessel” hits home for anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one, and the simply incredible musicality can easily cause one to weep or just become angry. Weyandt and guitarists Scott Mellinger and Russ Cogdell are a tsunami of a writing team, and have crafted an extremely visceral and placid landscape of sound.
This continues throughout the other nine tracks on The Well Intentioned Virus…
The title track ,”A Well Intentioned Virus” obviously keeps up the overall heaviness that consumes Zao records. I have to say that I love the irony in this title. One has to wonder how a virus could be “well intentioned”? Viruses do in fact run their course and thus build up immunity, but what is Weyandt really getting at?
The chaos that is the instrumentation injects you with rigid fluids that make your senses quake. The vocals are truly shards of glass being thrown at you. The guitars whale with speed and the drums never let up.
Zao is back!
“Our path of sight through perception is soiled / As our sanity turns spoiled / Commands sent down by light and sound /
Imaginary generals lie tired from the war / They will become what they abhor / A well-intentioned virus posing as a cure”
“Broken Pact Blues” is a song with changing time signatures that seems choppy, but has a certain flow to it. With the crunch of the guitar and the slam of the drums, it also has a somber edge that calms in the midst of the storm.
“Jinba Ittai,” Courtesy of genius.com/Zao-jinba-ittai-lyrics “Jinba ittai (人馬一体) describes a philosophy of Japanese mounted archery, Yabusame (流鏑馬) meaning “person and horse as one body”.
Dan Weyandt describes it as: The relation of the mind to the body. The unavoidable grave that waits for us all. Our safety never guaranteed. Perception and existence.”
…I wanted to understand this song, so looking for lyrics, I found this. It is cool to see Dan Weyandt exploring different philosophies of different cultures; not a practice exercised too often in songwriting. Dan shows a true love for writing, is obviously not lazy about it, and it pays off well here.
“I hold my children’s breath / Feel their mother’s pain / Share my brother’s blood / Within my sister’s veins / Cry my mother’s tears / Through my father’s eyes / Tethered to this realm / In consciousness’ disguise”
Sonically, this song is stiff and powerful.
It speeds up with plenty of chops, and kicks in the door!
The trudgy and epic intro to the track “Apocalypse” stirs up emotions and paints a bleak picture of an apocalyptic land. The vocals are being sung cleanly by Scott Mellinger. He has really come into his own as an exceptional singer.
A change, but definitely a welcome one, as the words echo off of the atmospheric guitars. As expected, the doom comes in screams halfway through the song! It is beautiful, as the chorus – “I scream as life crumbles down around me / A force so obscene / Your efforts to save us end in vain,” – is again cleanly sung.
“Xenophobe” is fast and heavy. It packs a lot of energy into 3m 10s, and reminds us that we all struggle with fear, racist tendencies, and are misguided by manipulating media.
In “Haunting Pools” we get a well paced metalcore song with some nice atmospheric droning.
That classic Zao chugging guitar resonates, and this song pulses and tenses so smoothly.
More cleans on the chorus round this one out quite well.
“Observed/Observer” has a more chill vibe to it. I love it when Dan screams to songs that are “softer”; or at least have a more melodic approach. At a minute in, the vocals are set against some choppy beats and off time guitar work, and it sounds awesome!
“The Sun Orbits Around Flat Earth Witch Trials” can be chalked up as another classic sounding Zao song. It has the teeth and bite, and all the flesh to go with it. Nothing too different about it, but more of the fast, heavy, and dark that you have come to expect and love.
The tenth and final song “I Leave You In Peace” is a proper ender. The lyrics and the music tie this raging and dark beast together in a peaceful end. Ironic, beautiful, sonic, grand and intimate.
“Possession triggers change into tangible signs to see / Barren of the fruit to bear, they’re strangers to me / I wish them peace / Respectively”
To have a new Zao album is a very cool thing!
Especially one as good as The Well Intentioned Virus. It definitely will satisfy the old school fans who remember the mid-90’s, and any fan who discovered them later on.
Lyrically this account is a snapshot into the band’s personal lives; warts, scars, confusions, philosophies, spirituality… and all. Long ago Zao separated themselves from any label or stigma, and as they stand alone apart from the wolf eat wolf pack that is the world of metal – or metalcore – they have once again found a place in the upper ranks. The alpha males, humbly carving out their place in the forest, as they observe so many wannabes fall off the cliffs, chasing entities that never last.
Zao cares about the music; about the art.
They released The Well Intentioned Virus on their own label (Observed/Observer), in their own control. What does that tell you? Not chasing fame or money, just creating some real art that will last and be respected among many.
I give The Well Intentioned Virus a 5/5.
Listen to the songs here and soak them in!