Sound — 8
Brutal metalcore legends Zao rejoin the music world after a seven year absence with eleventh album "The Well-Intentioned Virus." A bit of history: alongside the likes of The Chariot and Converge, Zao are from a time of metalcore's infancy, creating a sound that seems far away from todays idea of metalcore.
Truly gritty production, big chords and dissonant, death metal-lite riffs formed the basis for this kind of OG metalcore sound. It's one that Zao and very few others can still make it feel fresh.
"The Well-Intentioned Virus" certainly has the punch but much like any band from that era, there's a surprising depth and variety that's been blended into the Zao sound. Ranging from the jarring, Gorguts-esque dynamic shifts of "The Weeping Vessel" to the oddly progressive and epic "Apocalypse" and the touching vocal/guitar harmony of "Haunting Pools," a full wealth of musical emotion is forged into this album.
While not as energetic or packed with brute force as contemporaries Converge or as hooky and bluesy as Every Time I Die, the pure malice and balancing of emotional ranges makes it feel special. That said, there are a few times where some of that impetus could improve some of these tracks along with the greater variety of them all, particularly "The Weeping Vessel" and Mastodon-like "Observed/Observer."
That being said, this is exactly how a modern version of a rough genre should sound: big drums, gritty guitar tones and a bass sound that subtly pulses and brews through its being. A perfect platform to fuel the anger.
Lyrics — 9
Long time vocalist Dan Weyandt still sounds as imposing and biting as he did nearly 20 years ago. A surprising factor in this band is just how much oomph they can fuel into their music considering the genre, but anyway.. Alongside guitarist Scott Mellinger and bassist Martin Lunn, a strong power trio is formed which adds to the depth that an album in this genre shouldn't usually have. Overall, Weyandt's vocal style might be typical but it's extremely effective.
Lyrically, Zao have gone through changes over its career, ranging from being a full on Christian band to more of a "whatever suits us" sort of mentality. There aren't many anti or pro Christian things that are immediately apparent within "The Well-Intentioned Virus," more that the themes are based on personal tragedies and experiences of the band themselves. "The Weeping Vessel," for example, deals with the difficult subject of a miscarriage while the album itself is named after the kind of person who do the wrong things for what they think are the right reasons. Quite fitting as topics go, the plethora of emotional states available gels well with the more personable nature of hardcore.
Overall Impression — 8
Much like Car Bomb and Ion Dissonance, two dissonant metalcore-ish bands who've both been on hiatus and released surprisingly strong albums, Zao bring full force but force with several touches of nuance. A positive symbiosis of aggressive, primordial metalcore and progressive touches makes it stand out to all.
Songs to look out for: "The Weeping Vessel," "Apocalypse," "Haunting Pools," "Observed/Observer."