“You just gotta keep on keepin’ on.”
This is a message that has rang loud and clear to the ever-changing member-base of Zao. 10 years after their very first full-length, All Else Failed, they’ve returned with just as much vigor and intensity as they began with. The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here tones down a lot of the overtly Christian themes that were prevalent on the last few records, but the same trademark sound and guttural vocals have not gone anywhere.
As one of the forerunners of the metalcore scene, Zao have had to constantly try to remain relevant -- and it hasn’t always worked. Throughout the later part of the band's career, a few of the albums released felt lackluster at best, but this newest effort finds the band reclaiming a lot of what made them popular in the first place.
“Killing Time 'Til It’s Time to Die” is unquestionably one of the most intense songs the band has recorded in years, and the rapid-fire approach is one that works well for not only singer Dan Weyandt and guitarist Scott Mellinger, but the newer members recruited to take place of those who’ve left over the past couple years. Fast-paced and frenetic right out the gate, the increasingly fast riffs and screamy vocals dominate most of the duration, only stopping for a quick but impressive guitar solo that breaks up the fevered pitch. The overpowering discordance coming from the band is only topped by the varied vocal approach of Weyandt, an approach that lends a fair bit of life to songs that could potentially grow monotonous.
For the most part, nothing on this newest effort is groundbreaking, but I will say that I’m rather impressed with the band's ability to keep things interesting for the 40-minute duration. Plenty of changes in tempo, vocal inflection, and guitar tunings can go a long way into keeping somebody interested in a record and style of music that is commonly thought to be at the end of its rope. The end of Zao’s rope, however, or at least the end of this album, is their real shining moment. “A Last Time for Everything” is a song that builds slowly with an ever-quickening and ever-loudening drum beat, while the rest of the band meanders through a variety of tempos until things slow towards the middle, only to slowly begin the climb back up. The rasp of the vocals and quick fills on the drums accent the rhythms of bass and guitar quite well, finally culminating in just the right combination of drums and vocals, each repeating in time, each echoing even after the song has concluded.
Ten years later, they’re still going. And I think there’s something to be said for that in and of itself. Bands in this genre are a dime a dozen, but generally don’t last longer than two or three years. So here’s to longevity, and a band that continually, somehow stays just one step ahead of the curve.