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Artist: Zao
Label: Solid State Records
Length: 10 tracks/36:08

Zao's fifth full-length album finds them further down the path of exploration.  Last time they visited the bowels of hell; now they've entered a strange new land beyond hardcore hades.  It's not as abrasive and corrosive as Liberate te ex Inferis, with more atmospheric textures via acoustic guitars, whispering vocals, digitized accents on percussion, and ambient electronica sections punctuating some songs.  The brutal heaviness remains in full force, but the black/death metalcore has been tempered by the same experimental muse as drummer/sometime singer Jesse Smith's solo project Through the Eyes of Katelyn.  Minor key melodies also occasionally remind one of the Deftones.  Mature music fans will recognize this as metal-as-art, a sonic painting of recurring revelation.

There was no lyric sheet with this promo, so unfortunately the tortured vocals kept most of the lyrics obscured.  A line in track 4 stood out and struck home, though, with the eerie statement and question:  "i watch as my dreams bleed -- which one of you hunters got me?"  Zao's imagery-laden examination of humanity in all its fallenness would seem to be intact; check the lyric sheet for more dark insights (assuming the official release includes the lyrics).

Complaints are few.  The short length of the songs and the album gives it an unfinished, unsatisfying feel.  No epic masterpiece here--just the ingredients for one.  Track 8 repeats a jarring rapcore chorus "she didn't know he was going to die" which mixes horribly with the surrounding deathcore.  That's one experiment hopefully never to be repeated.  Some will say Zao have and could have done better, while others will raise this as their best yet.  Either way, this latest self-titled effort is a bloody champion on a battlefield littered with the corpses of mediocre bands.

Josh Spencer     4/26/2001          



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