Biolans need Zao

The metalcore legends’ vital perspective resurfaces with the impending release of their 11th album.

Maxwell Heilman, Writer

Four Virginia-based youth group kids set out in 1993 to put out gnarly music for the Lord. A total of 23 years later, a seminal cornerstone of the heavy music community prepares to drop what will surely go down as the best metalcore release of 2016. Virginia heavyweights Zao may feature none of its original members after over 20 years of internal turmoil, but they have evolved into a truly unique band both in the music they play and the outlook they present. Those within the “Biola Bubble” will certainly find Zao’s perspective on religion, culture and personal tragedy both eye-opening and convicting.

A zealous mission

While the incarnation of Zao that released 1996’s “The Splinter Shards the Birth of Separation” had a zealous mission of ministry through Earth Crisis-esque tough-guy hardcore, the resurrection of Zao brought a completely different ethos to the table. While the musical aspects of the band certainly took a turn for the darker and sludgier, Daniel Weyandt provided a more obvious point of divergence with his vocal delivery and lyrical inspirations.

With a heartbreaking testimony of loss and disillusionment, his terrifying snarls brought harsh reality to Christian bookstores everywhere. Cuts like “A Fall Farewell” and “Savannah” dealt with the loss of hope and immeasurable pain surrounding the act of suicide, while “Ravage Ritual” and “Skin Like Winter” deal with the consequences of foundless religiosity he witnessed in the churches of Pennsylvania. Weyandt does not write for comfort. His savage delivery, although often incomprehensible, forces the listener to consider corruption within the body of Christ and provides relatable insights into the unfathomably difficult experiences.

Theological and existential profundity

Songs like “5 Year Winter” and “My Love, My Love (We’ve Come Back From The Dead)” respectively center around ending an unhealthy relationship and a good old-fashioned zombie story, which reveal the band’s more straightforward musical storytelling. However, the theological and existential profundity of Zao’s approach became fully realized with the release of “The Funeral of God” in 2004.

A concept record exploring a hypothetical scenario in which God abandons the universe to do things entirely without his presence, it details the horror and destruction that would follow from a fallen world left to its own devices. Many Christian outlets refused to carry this record because it dealt with such a bleak perspective, but those who delve into its content will discover the brilliance of its cautionary reverence under the band’s vicious metalcore battery and Weyandt’s unparallelled lyrical verisimilitude.

In spite of what they contribute to the musical spectrum, Zao’s popularity rarely reaches beyond their devoted fanbase. Indeed, many who hear about “The Well-Intentioned Virus,” with a projected release on Dec. 9, actually express surprise that Zao still exists. In a sociopolitical climate of uncertainty, frustration and disenchantment, the band’s return packs scathing political commentary through the bloodthirsty single “Xenophobe” and the savagely impassioned title track’s examination of the long-term result of humanity’s reprehensible condition. Zao stands as an example of a band who left the clichés of religious music behind, now standing as a confrontational wakeup call to anyone paying attention to the nuances of their suffocating delivery.

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