Zao, the prolific Pennsylvania-based metalcore band, has consistently proven themselves to be one of the heaviest hitters in the ever-changing underground. After ten albums of leaden, purposeful tunes infused with even weightier lyrical content, the veteran act's vast discography is a bountiful inventory of honorable aggression that any headbanger would duly appreciate.
Now, with their new album The Well-Intentioned Virus out Dec. 9 and the influential group's recent reappraisal as genre forefathers, the time is ripe for a pragmatic plundering of the band's cyclopean catalog. Here are seven Zao songs we think are the heaviest yet released, in both musical agency and poetic scope. Let us know your personal picks in the comments section below.
7. "At Zero"
The perfect metalcore jam for anyone who's ever felt alone, at the bottom, at zero. The last cut on the band's watershed 2001 (Self-Titled) album, the song's staying power evinces performances of "At Zero" at Zao shows even now. Vocalist Dan Weyandt captures the essence of oblivion preternaturally but defiantly, proclaiming that he may be at zero, but he "will not die at zero."
6. "The Rising End"
Seemingly just one of many in a long line of metal songs about the end of the world, Zao tackle the subject matter with such elegiac, antagonistic aplomb that you'd really believe they can summon "fire from the sky." When "bombs rain down like heaven's tears," this is the song that'll be playing. Just wait until you hear The Well-Intentioned Virus' corresponding revelation, "Apocalypse"
Does Zao's "Savannah" depict a deceased actress? That's the lore behind this song on the album that introduced sage guitarist Scott Mellinger to Zao, 1999's Liberate Te Ex Inferis, the cryptic holy grail of late-'90s/early-aughts metalcore albums. Paul W. S. Anderson's 1997 sci-fi horror Event Horizon and Dante's Inferno are prerequisites for full appreciation of the album's filmic concept.
4. "Lies of Serpents, a River of Tears"
The opening track on Zao's seminal 1998 LP, Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest, "Lies of Serpents, a River of Tears" compounds the band's early religious roots and-yet obstinate dogmatic dissidence in a perfect, sawtooth crystallization. "For so long, I've wanted to come home," Weyandt yowls, "held back by lies of serpents and tongues of brothers." The song leaves obscure if that home was found.
3. "A Tool to Scream"
Wait for it. After a slow-burning intro, this second (Self-Titled) tune truly takes hold. Regardless of one's stance on abortion, "A Tool to Scream" confronts the corporeal concerns of termination: "They breathe but cannot scream, they have no tools to build voices." The cascading composition likens abortees to martyrs and drops us all in such a precarious position -- "There is no safe place."
2. "It's Hard Not to Shake with a Gun in Your Mouth"
Ostensbily an itemizing of personal failings, band-related mishaps and/or overall doctrinal collapse, Zao's impenetrably-titled "It's Hard Not to Shake with a Gun in Your Mouth" finds Weyandt calling himself a "failure of God" and rebuking his "circle of ... brothers [with] their fangs out." The song hails from the band's Steve Albini-produced 2006 album, The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here.
Zao lit up 2016 with their heaviest stuff yet. Serving as a preview of December's The Well-Intentioned Virus LP, their first album in seven years, the veritable taster that is the Xenophobe / Fear Itself EP shows that Zao haven't given an inch in voluptuous verse nor thematic texture. Weyandt's venomous (and timely) admonition of "entitled, hateful beliefs" is a wearied but welcome wake-up call.