Every once in a while, there’s a band that becomes a foundational influence for an entire wave of songwriters, musicians, bands, and even listeners. Somewhere in the rise of experimental metal, Zao took up the torch and became the band on which most aspiring metalcore artists would cut their teeth. And after three decades and twelve albums, their influence and tenure prove to be as colossal as ever in their latest release, The Crimson Corridor.
Zao’s poignant delivery is unmistakable in their new record, despite five long years since their last release. Dan Weyandt’s timeless animalistic snarl still sets Zao miles apart from their successors, along with the band’s proven prowess. There is no shortage of tight, frantic riffs, blasting rhythms, and the occasional rich, contrasting melody. All the best of Zao has shown up for the next phase of their legacy, with the added intensity of spectral leads and ethereal textures that bring a new depth to their musicianship.
Weyandt’s ominous and visceral songwriting in The Crimson Corridor embodies his experience with depression, anxiety, and anger — how they coexist and manifest in and beyond the mind. Each song, representative of a different horror found in the human psyche. And beyond the lyrical narrative, the sonic passage is just as — if not more — powerful from beginning to end.
The opening instrumental, “Into the Jaws of Dread,” stays close to the chest right off the bat with a clean motif of minor thirds. The human touch on the strings with each strum only adds to the reverent dissonance. Somehow, you know this is only the calm before the storm… In the distant background, almost incomprehensible, is the sound of children — the sound of innocence — a theme that returns later in the album. As the first movement swells, synths and strings pile on to the airy soundscape and before you know it, you’re looking back at the wave of sound that’s ushered you in, wondering how you got there, and how you’ll get back. The same progression drives the song in its entirety, evolving into sheer intensity that pulls you into the current before the last wave takes you under, into the throes of the following tracks.
Bursting through with Zao’s signature metallic tones and wild vocals, the doom and density that churns beneath the surface of the record boils over from song to song, finding heights and depths that swing like a pendulum between crippling fear and utter mania. And all the while, Weyandt’s lyricism remains poignant and haunting — from the hard hitters like “Ship of Theseus” to slow burners like “Croatoan.”
The ability these songs have to hold you captive and fester in your mind is a brilliant testament to Zao’s understanding of music psychology.
The ability these songs have to hold you captive and fester in your mind is a brilliant testament to Zao’s understanding of music psychology. Scarce melodies and patient tempos offer only a small sense of relief in the nightmarish wilderness of the record. Between the airy chant in “Nothing’s Form,” the polarized rhythms throughout “Transition,” and the chords that unravel one note at a time in “Creator/Destroyer,” what’s left is all feeling, a night terror.
The guitars and vocals find their way back together in unison during the final track, “The Web.” The album’s moody conclusion is riddled with imagery and packed with hard hits that slow to an unlikely resolve, marking the last stop of Zao’s latest testimony. From the end of the record, looking back at the beginning, the journey is meandering, dynamic, and anything but linear.
As a band known for constant member changes in their early history, it’s the resilience of Zao that has forged an immortal identity and made way for the band’s greatest work to date. Where there was once punchy, aggressive metalcore, there is now mature, post-metal severity that not only boasts Zao’s continued growth as an unstoppable influence, but also expands horizons for a band we all thought had dialed in their trajectory. Without a single weak spot to pinpoint in the entire album, The Crimson Corridor is not only a monument in Zao’s body of work, it is the collective whole of their history and a new genesis of what’s to come.