Zao has returned after what felt like an eternal absence. Seven years have passed since the West Virginia metal pioneers released the well-received Awake; it’s easily been the longest lapse between albums. The good news is The Well-Intentioned Virus is a career contribution from the band, one well worth the wait.
The legions of fans that have been influenced by Zao — many of which are in their prime now, 23 years after Zao’s inception — often say two things about the band:
- They are a staple in metal, having carved their name deep into the tree of the genre
- Their poetic lyrics are an art form in and of themselves
I learned these truths from my brother, and, when we discussing their three best albums in preparation for this review, we settled on Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest, The Funeral of God, and Awake; they all got a replay. Zao’s songwriting quickly reminded me why metal (in general) and Zao (specifically) has always remained relevant: It’s integral for social awareness.
Not at all to my surprise, the new album follows the same socio-political lead, bringing attention to the gross imbalance of social constructs and hypocrisy in the free world. It’s full of brutal honesty — the true Zao way — such as in “The Well-Intentioned Virus” where vocalist Dan Weyandt screams, “Imaginary generals lie tired from the war / They will become what they abhor / A well-intentioned virus posing as a cure.”
Like all of the albums in Zao’s discography, TWIV is as much a heavy-hitter musically as it is lyrically. While it will still beat you down, the band does a good job expanding and evolving on that sound so they don’t grow stale. It’s not completely sans clean vocals like their earlier work, but it is certainly not a collection of melodies, either. For example, “Broken Pact Blues” has slightly cleaner vibe and is more ambient/metal fusion, while the opening track “Weeping Vessel” is hardwired with electric energy, nothing short of hardcore. There are songs with more of a rock influence, such as the ominous “Apocalypse,” as well as the album’s title track. The chaotic and cosmic “Xenophobe” may be familiar to fans who have followed not only the full length releases, but EPs as well, as it is lent from the 2015 EP of the same name.
Zao has undoubtedly added to their score of culturally-relevant albums with this one. With its veteran backbone, raw voice, and savage-yet-developed cacophony, it will join the ranks of their more memorable releases; it seems the passage of time has only sharpened their aptitude.