Thursday, 16 April 2009

Why Zao Are (Probably) The Best Heavy Band Ever

I must admit, when I first heard Zao I absolutely hated them. The song was called trashcanhands, it appeared on an early Solid State compilation and I thought it was absolutely rubbish. Then again, at the time I thought almost all the bands appearing on that particular compilation (including Blindside, Extol and Training For Utopia) were laughable crap.

Over the following years, as my preferences progressed away from Creed and 3 Doors Down and headed towards the heavier end of the musical spectrum, my appreciation and enjoyment for the aforementioned Solid State bands and their equally heavy heathen counterparts gradually increased. Sadly though, even when my tastes had progressed to the point where I was listening to Dillinger Escape Plan to chill-out, I still didn’t manage to make an effort to try out Zao again. This seems a little strange as generally I make an effort to check out the stated influences of many of my favorite bands and Zao’s name was thrown around quite a bit in regards to this. This effort is generally propelled by my incessant urge to be the biggest music snob in the world, able to name-drop derisively and claim that almost all current metalcore is a rip-off of something At The Gates wrote 15 years ago.

Anyways, it was finally a trip to my local indie music stockist, a sudden onset of overwhelming curiosity and an excess of weekly dispensable income that led me to purchase my first Zao-brand item, the ‘Lesser Lights Of Heaven’ DVD. I will gladly admit that my initial reasons for purchasing the DVD were its intriguing cover art and the alluring, handwritten promo sticker affixed to its shrink-wrap, stating something about how Zao had ‘invented metallic hardcore’ (indicating potentially effective name-dropping opportunities).

I hurried home, eagerly unwrapped ‘Lesser Lights’, popped the concert disc into my DVD player and immediately regretted my decision. The sound quality was extremely poor, the singer was fat, had a hideous Misfits-style haircut and kneeled for almost all the set. The drummer used almost no cool ‘double-kicks’, the clean vocals were off-key and the guitar parts were knock-offs of old school Slayer. I ejected the DVD and dejectedly placed it in my pile of ‘What Was I Thinking!’ impulse purchases, which included Fall Out Boy’s “Infinity On High”, a bright green Mohawk beanie and the Ab Swing.

Fast forward to a couple months later and whilst searching for something new to watch, I came across the DVD again, and being in an extremely forgiving mood I decided to give it another go. This time I chose to watch the very lengthy documentary covering the history of Zao as a band, from their inception in 1993 to their state of hiatus in 2007.

Suffice to say I was absolutely transfixed by the engaging and heartbreaking story recounted to me by the personalities appearing in the documentary, from the quietly damaged Dan Weyandt to the outspoken and obnoxious Jesse Smith. The perseverance and complete passion for music which has kept Zao alive was extremely inspiring and the sheer amount of blood, sweat and tears which has fueled their continued existence left me feeling very lazy about my own musical endeavors. Hearing Dan tell the stories from his life which informed Zao’s lyrics had me captivated and slowly filled me with some sort of self-insistence, demanding that I must become a Zao fan, whatever the cost.

With this forced perspective now obscuring my musical preference, I once again attempted to watch some more of the concert footage contained on ‘Lesser Lights’. Strangely this time it started to make sense. I found some sense of catharticism in the oddly simple guitar riffs, a saddening sense of rage and loss in Dan’s vocals and a genuine feeling of honesty imbuing the music presented to me. Perhaps it is my inbuilt Australian mentality to always root for the underdog but I began to feel a strong sense of connection with the odd music and ever-changing line-up of the entity which is Zao. To this day I still have an enormous soft-spot for Zao, which has led me to slowly collect almost all of their musical output, from the album with their ‘original’ line-up, 'All Else Failed', to their split EP with Training For Utopia. In fact, if it were to be announced that Zao’s new and soon-to-be forthcoming album ‘Awake?’ was recorded on dictation tape, featured only one original song and ten remixes with guest vocals from Lady GaGa I would still buy it. Hell, I’d order the special edition with the free coffee mug and Zao mouse pad off

When it comes down to it, my continued love affair with Zao is based completely upon their individualistic determinations and the fact that their music can legitimately scare the crap out of me. Originally touted as a ‘Christian band’, Zao have always drawn fire from the conservative Christian sect due to their black metal-ish sound and their adherence to a more liberal take on Christianity. Conservative Christians still seem to think rock’n’roll is of the Devil, so a self-proclaimed Christian band with a singer who actually sounds like Satan was always going to be a controversial topic amongst this demographic. The insane darkness of Dan’s lyrics and his unintelligible snake-like delivery is genuinely frightening, but I personally believe that if Christian metal bands are going to attempt to bring a fire-and-brimstone approach to their message it should be frightening. Too many Christian bands already exist who attempt to enforce a fire-and-brimstone message with the effectiveness of brightly colored illustrations in a children’s picture Bible.

Basically, no other band in existence can replicate Zao’s iconic sound and style, nor present a more inspiring case of perseverance against all odds. The fact that Zao are still around and recording today is a miracle and hopefully more than their small but dedicated fan base will begin to appreciate this fact. In this day and age there are far too many As I Lay Dying and Underoath clones floating around and not enough band’s attempting to walk the individual and unpopular path Zao have trod their entire career. So listen to some freakin’ Zao because they need the money and they are indeed (probably) the best heavy band ever.


  1. I whole heartedly agree sir. I am no christian and next to Neurosis (name drop) Zao is my all time favorite band.

  2. Damn you.
    Now my next blog will have to be titled "Why Neurosis are (probably) the best heavy band ever".

  3. Wow dude, someone at linked me to this post...I think you really captured the same reasons why I love this band...I feel the passion in it, no bullsh*t involved, just massive amounts of passion for the music they put out...Scott has said before that he didn't care if the record didn't sell, as long as they felt like it was a good album they were happy...thats why I respect them so much.

    Thanks for the post, really, I also think Zao is unappreciated on the "scene" these days...I once saw them in concert where they opened for none other than Demon Hunter...hell froze over that day....Legendary musicians and a foundational band in the Hardcore scene opening for those bunch of losers..anyway..dont get me started on that tangent.

    I recently did an interview with Dan, Scott, and Jeff on my website...and a review of the new album Awake?...check it out. BTW... Zao is not a christian band, hasn't been since 98 or so.

  4. By the way, I totally pwnd you in name drops on my last comment!


  5. Very good commentary of probably my favorite band ever. This band never ceases to blow me away with every album they release.

    One thing though, "All Else Failed" was their first full-length album and the split with TFU was a CD, not a 7". :)

  6. Also referred through

    Great job and thanks for your honestly. Have always loved Zao and been inspired by their music.

  7. Hey cheers for the comments guys, and especially thanks to whoever linked me on
    Honestly besides Zao the only bands that I feel this much passion for are As Cities Burn, The Gaslight Anthem and Oh, Sleeper so I'll probably be dropping a plug for them at some point too...

  8. And yeah I pretty much wrote this off the top of my head in like an hour with a little help from wikipedia so apologies for any tech errors...

  9. As Cities Burn is freaking amazing. You should do them next.

    Oh, Sleeper is also great, but I haven't heard The Gaslight Anthem.

  10. check out my previous blogs - i have a descriptive-type review of 'son, i loved you at your darkest' that you might dig...