back to main page

Splinter Shards The Birth Of Seperation - * * *

Where Blood And Fire Bring Peace And Rest - * * * * *

Liberate Te Ex Inferis - * * * *

Self-Titled - * * * *

Parade Of Chaos - * * * * 1/2

Splinter Shards The Birth Of Seperation

The roots run deep within
entangling around my Rock
never letting go of this truth
the power that has sustained me
I will endure in what I believe
and it will endure in me...

- Endure

Spinter Shards The Birth Of Seperation represents an early incarnation of Zao. This was not their first record, it was predated by the practically unattainable All Else Failed, but it was very early in the band's history with an entirely different lineup. Drummer Jesse Smith is in fact the only member to remain in the band to the next recording. The fact that the band was so young at the time and their subsequent lineup changes account for the fact that Splinter Shards sounds practically nothing like Zao does today. At this point the band was showing some signs of the traits that would later distinguish them from their peers, but it lacks the unique Zao sound. Splinter Shards is basically midpaced metalcore with little to distinguish it except the decidedly Christian slant to its lyrics and the exceptional talent of the band's drummer. In particular the drum fills at the end of Surrounds Me , and the in the middle of the furious breakdown sections in Particle and Repressed demostrate very early on that Smith is an excellent drummer. The drums and bass carry the full weight and power of the better songs on the album. The rest of the band is more mediocre, although the singer does have his moments. The ending of the last song almost plays like a spoken word section except for the fact that the singer is screaming at full volume over very subdued music. This is a solid ending, finishing the album on a good note after 3 or 4 unexceptional songs. This effect is very powerful and gives the listener a clear window into Zao's lyrics and overall message. I would have to say that of the 4 albums I have heard thus far, this one is the most religiously oriented. Here they sound like a Christian metal band rather than a metal band comprised of Christians which is how they prefer to be viewed now. The lyrics will either be a plus or a negative depending on which side of the fence you stand religiously. Zao is literally a different band today than it was on Splinter Shards . It is a fine album in its own right but sounds nothing like the band does now. It is more hardcore oriented and less metal than subsequent releases. At times the band can be really tight and precision, almost bringing to mind the progressive sounding fury of bands like One King Down and Unearth, bands who have stood out from the crowd in playing this style of music. However by Endure the overall sameness of the album and the mediocrity of the patented metalcore sound in general begin to wear thin and I find myself reaching for their next album. This is a good addition to your collection if you are already into this band, and a decent album in its own right, but I wouldn't recommend that this be the first Zao record you buy.

* * *

Reviewed: August, 2002

Where Blood And Fire Bring Peace And Rest

When you shut your eyes and fell asleep
Dark clouds descended on the souls of the ones who held you close to their hearts
And the rain that came gently met your tears
they became one and seeped into the earth
I watched from a distance and
... my heart broke open as if to tell them...
the beauty of an embrace, a place to lay down the pain
where blood and fire bring rest and peace

- To Think Of You Is To Treasure An Absent Memory

This is definitely one of Zao's finer moments. From the first notes of the opening song, the progress that they have made is immediately evident. Following the complete breakup and disillusion of the band following Splinter Shards, Zao reformed with new blood and one hell of a new vocalist. The more metal oriented approach the band has taken on this album is obvious from the first track, with a guitar riff that seems ripped directly from a Bolt Thrower song and Dan Weyandt's sick fucking vocals. This is what sold me on Zao in the first place. The vocals are unique and completely original. They are obviously influenced to a point by black metal and some of the more extreme forms of death metal. The closest analogy I can offer is that of the guy from Carcass gargling with battery acid. Dan's vocal style on this album is the defining moment for Zao setting themselves apart from their peers and becoming something truly unique. The vocal style solidifies them as a metal band on this album, although there are still flirtations with the hardcore of their earlier years. Blood And Fire in this respect is a kind of transition album for Zao, moving them farther from where they started musically and ideologically. Musically, the dynamics are a lot tighter this time around, and the sound is more focused. Zao isn't all over the map with different sounds as they have been in earlier and later releases. This record incorporates different styles ranging from hardcore to death metal to black metal to subtle acoustics. It however does not come off as thrown together, these styles are blended seamlessly. Both Ember and To Think Of You are excellent songs, as good as anything Zao has ever written. The latter especially exemplifies the dynamic at work between different sounds here. It starts off with a mild acoustic intro which builds into an outburst of hard metal riffs and furious screaming, which is then alternated with what sounds almost like tribal drumming from Jesse Smith. The song is tight and doesn't sound disjointed despite all of these different things going on at once. Zao's use of acoustic instrumentation here was another new step for the band which would be utilized much in later albums. The end track in particular, Violet is a quiet piece played entirely on piano, very dark and very atmospheric and definitely a good way to end the album. The effects of this type of musical contrast were not lost on the band and developed into an integral part of their sound in later years. Anyone who is not a huge fan of Dan's vocals will probably have a hard time with this album, as they are very high in the mix. The band was obviously going for a harder sound and looking to showcase the talent of their new singer, but there are times such as on Fifteen Rhema where the vocals are grating and just seem too high up in the mix even for someone who likes Weyandt's vocals. Overall, this is an excellent album with hardly anything to fault. It showcases the new direction of the band and shows what they are capable of doing with that sound, laying the groundwork for what would be some truly unique music. Zao never sounded this tight and focused before or after this record, and the music fucking slays. This is highly recommended.

* * * * *

Reviewed: June, 2002

Liberate Te Ex Inferis

I can see your breath begging to resurrect into death
Hiding scars back laced with splinters
Audience of a congregation make your way to the front
Close your eyes and grieve
You played your part so well

- Skin Like Winter

A lot of people feel this is the band's best work. Likewise, it was the first record I heard by them and thus will always be the standard by which I compare other releases. However fanatical I was about this album after first hearing it, it has worn on me over the last year and a half. Liberate is a solid album straight through and there are definitely some fine moments but it takes less chances musically and is therefore not as interesting as Blood And Fire or Self-Titled. This is straight up death metal, played with fury and precision for the most part, but bringing little else to the table. The album is loosley based on the film Event Horizon which is an extremely terrifying sci fi horror movie about a lost spaceship which has crossed into hell through a space-time warp and come back as a demon posessed ghost ship. I still don't make the connection between this film and the lyrics on the album, but the sound bites run consistently through and do set the tone nicely with talk of demons and hell and damnation. The title of the record is actually from the film as well. Translated from latin as "Save yourself from hell", it was a warning from the ship's crew to whoever found their vessel. Here I guess it serves as a warning to the audience, although Zao moves even farther from their militant evangelist roots on this album and chooses to discuss more contemporary topics like mental illness and domestic violence. There is a lot of material that concentrates however on the pain and social isolation which come from holding onto strong beliefs in the face of adversity. This is a more universal standpoint for the band to relate to its audience but is obviously drawn out of their religious background and thus Zao does not abandon their beliefs on this record (as some have accused) but simply writes more personal and therefore intersting and unique lyrics. The same would hold true on their next album. Ideological concepts aside, there is some excellent music on this album. The band has obviously learned well from their acoustic experiments on Blood and Fire and plays the soft-loud card quite a bit this time around. The intro track is all instrumental, subtle and almost hypnotic in the way it draws you in and gradually builds tension before tearing your head off with the full out metal fury of the leading two tracks. Savannah and Autopsy are straight out death metal, fast and brutal, and harder than most other songs in Zao's catalogue. If These Scars Could Speak again works acoustics into the formula, trading off between remorseful acoustic guitar and gutteral death metal anger. These types of songs are when Zao is at its most powerful, mixing different elements of music together to express a wide range of emotions. The sorrow and reflection of the acoustic parts just makes the fury of the metal parts that much more unsettling. However for the most part, Zao avoids these contrasts in favor of straight death metal which is very well played but not as interesting as what this band is capable of. The Ghost Psalm and Desire The End both make use of acoustics and spoken word passages but they seem to be thrown in for good measure rather than fitting the songs. Dark Cold Sound and Skin Like Winter are both very hard edged metal songs more in the vein of the opening tracks. The album's closers Kathleen Barbara and Man In Cage are quieter and more reflective numbers. Basically, this album is very well done, but doesn't take as many chances musically as the band's other work. Therefore I would not say it is their best work, but it is definitely nothing to be ashamed of. A solid and sometimes surprising death metal album from an extremely talented band

* * * *

Reviewed: August, 2002


I tried again I fell again to find out for myself
It hurts for a life time
Your picture rests there for a lifetime
And for a lifetime I will dream of you
I prepare a mantle inside of my heart
With your photograph to sooth the scars
Unable to be erased unable to be forgotten
As I grow older I will dream

- The Dreams That Don't Come True

This is a much more interesting album than Liberate. By interesting I don't mean that it is better, but simply different. Liberate found the band settling into a comfortable sound, and playing what was pretty much exclusively death metal. A few of the songs on this record are better than anything you will find on that release, but the formula and consistency are thrown out the window for the most part on Self-Titled. The quality of this record is uneven, and musically the band is all over the map with different styles. So for an introduction to Zao, I would not recommend this but Self-Titled turned out to be a very interesting record. This band is angry and it shows from the first track forward. It also appears they are tired of being labeled and being forced to limit themselves to cater to certain audiences. Five Year Winter , the album's opener, is a song of undeniable wrath and seething anger directed toward an ex-girlfriend. Alive is Dead basically confirms the rumored break up of the group, being that "Zao" is a greek word meaning "alive". The most fury on the album is directed toward the group's many critics. Trashcanhands is a scathing attack on former fans who post shit in internet newsgroups saying that the band sold out. The song basically says to these people that Zao is not doing this for them and they need to get a fucking life. "You think because you bought this record, you read a list of thanks you can judge our lives (you've identified)". Zao even takes the added measure of naming (screen) names of some of the offenders to make sure they know who they are. Zao basically started taking a lot of shit once they got to be popular. The mainstream metal fans criticized them for being religious, and the Christian scene criticized them for selling out and not being religious enough. A lot of the stuff on this record is a direct reaction to that. The band pretty much foregoes any religious imagery or concept and writes strictly personal lyrics. My own take on the matter is that having a band strictly tailored to a certain audience in the Christian metal scene to the exclusion of all others doesn't do much for me. When a band like Zao becomes huge and starts integrating itself into the mainstream it has more of an effect on people. Having a band this talented say that they are Christians got me more interested in religion without even specifically mentioning their beliefs in the music. A band playing exclusively the converted is not going to help your scene or spread your beliefs. Zao more or less writes very specific lyrics now about personal issues and I think they are a better band for it. The music here is just as interesting as the direction their lyrics have taken. Like I said this is a very angry sounding album. Songs like Five Year Winter and A Tool To Scream are death metal at its most furious. The vocals are more varied and much more intense than on Liberate . At Zero even finds Dan experimenting with more gutteral death metal sounds. There are some missteps on the album such as the completely horrible The End Of His World and the surprisingly boring although very angry sounding At Zero. However when this album hits its high points, the result is better than anything Zao has done before. The Dreams That Don't Come True is a remarkable song that builds on Zao's experimentation with contrasts and acoustics. The song features much improvemed clean vocals. It alternates these with death shreiks and acoustic guitar. You simply can't write a better song than this. Alive is Dead is all instrumental and features some very interesting stuff, mostly showcasing Jesse's drumming. The straight death metal of Five Year Winter and Trashcanhands is made all the more interesting by the raw emotion conveyed in the lyrics and in the overall delivery. That is the album's key selling point, Zao is serious about what they are doing. The emotion and energy put into this record are obvious and the raw angry quality of it does more for me than the more uniform and consistent Liberate record. The album has its faults that come naturally with a band that is trying so many different sounds. Like late period Beatles records or the early 70s Pink Floyd soundtrack albums, the chaos that is embodied by the diversity of sounds detracts from its overall quality and consistency but makes it very interesting to listen to and try to understand what this band is doing. This is the record that solidified their legacy and proved Zao to be on an entirely different level from their less imaginative death metal peers.

* * * *

Reviewed: September, 2002

Parade Of Chaos

We march like fools in a parade of chaos
Led by our enemies
While we sing their praises
Led by our enemies
While we kiss their hands
The morning rained fire
Let the heavens retire
Over the eyes of the blind
And the vioces of spoiled children
True leaders are gone
We turned our back too many times
And bit the hand of the provider
Chaos kills us

- The Parade Of Chaos

Zao's fifth and final CD ties up all the loose ends from their career. For a band that started out playing metalcore by the numbers on the Christian hardcore scene to eventually be able to write an album like this is a fascinating testament to how much this band has developed over the years by sheer vision and dedication to what they were doing. Parade Of Chaos takes the elements that Zao was fucking around with on the Self-Titled disc and fully incorporates them into the band's sound to create something entirely new and different. There are thousands of metal bands that sound exactly the same. Not one of them sounds remotely close to what Zao has done on this disc. The music switches at will from subtle acoustics to death metal fury to electronic experimentation. And when it's not switching up these elements, it is using them all at the same time playing the one element off the other. This record takes the experimentation of the Self-Titled disc to its natural conclusion, and is a much more consistent and solid album than its predecessor. Zao has fully developed into a hybrid of styles so diverse that this can't even be categorized into any genre. The lyrics are focused on the futility of following the followers, and once again on relationships destroyed both romantic and spiritual. The clean vocals are utilized much more on this record and have progressed a lot. Clean vocals and choruses are traded off with furious death metal screaming to an effect that is unsettling no matter how many times I hear it. Weyandt hasn't lost any of his anger, and the death vocals are sharper and more brutal than they have been in years. Parade Of Chaos isn't Zao's best record but it is damn close. The album occasionally falters when the band loses itself in the mix trying to do too much on songs like Killing Cupid and Pirate's Prayer . Even these songs though have their moments. The last minutes of Pirate's Prayer build and repeat a hardcore metal riff and then fade into an electronic version of the same riff which sounds like the guitar is being drowned before segueing into the heavy guitar again with vocals screaming repeatedly over the top. This record is the sound of a band completely confident that they are better than most of their peers. They are right. Zao created unique and interesting music in a genre where it's easier to just repeat what's been done before. They were an example of what a metal band is capable of when it's not afraid to take chances. No one else could have made an album like this and pulled it off with such confidence, precision and raw unadulterated fury. They will be missed.

* * * * 1/2

Reviewed: February, 2003

Questions Complaints And Death Threats

E Mail:psyops2003@hotmail.com

Main Page / Half A Page Of Scribbled Lines / Quotes / Travis Bickle's Bad Day / WWW.666 / Lord Of The Pit / The Last Word / Lyrical Warfare / Trendy Album Review Section