Rarely is a record's title as apt at its time of release as Parade of Chaos was for Greensburg, PA's Zao. Tensions had run high within the fold, Dan Weyandt had dropped out of the band's lineup for the first time (though he returned in time to record vocals on this and later albums), and their contract with Solid State was about to be fulfilled. Chaos, indeed. As always, however, the band pulled it together to crank out not only two more albums with Solid State, as well as a "greatest hits" collection of sorts, but a final tour in support of their then-latest original work (although no songs from Parade of Chaos made it into the setlist somehow) that unofficially marked the end of the second era of Zao, as the band would go on hiatus shortly thereafter. Despite the whirlwind of controversy, however, Zao managed to give us an excellent album that could go down as their most underrated effort (although even current Zao drummer Jeff Gretz names it as one of his favorite Zao albums).
Other than Zao's pre-Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest work (as well as the band's re-recording of All Else Failed during the Parade of Chaos sessions), Parade… is, to my knowledge, the only Zao album recorded in drop-D tuning as opposed to drop-C. However, though one might think this would detract from the standard Zao heaviness, it in fact adds to the also-standard Zao creepy vibe, giving the album close to a fast-paced hard-rock-with-screaming or even more of a straight-up hardcore feel at times until the songs dip into classic Zao dissonance; this can especially be seen in the raucous title track near the midpoint (seeming to musically foreshadow "Physician Heal Thyself" from The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here). However, it's not an especially drastic change; every song still feels like the Zao we all know and love, without any watering down. Scott Mellinger's guitars (and bass, incidentally) are as groovy and nasty as ever, and Jesse Smith, while keeping it simple this time around with regard to the beats, still shines on the (acoustic; no V-drums on this one) kit, classing up even the simplest lines with well-placed double bass and fills. Dan is still the man with his gnarly, razor-blade-gargling pipes, although there seems to be a subtle electronic distortion to his vocals peculiar to this record and the re-recording of All Else Failed. Overall, despite the certainly trying times this album was recorded in, Parade… seems to possess an energy that hadn't really been tapped since Liberate Te Ex Inferis.
Right out of the gate, "The Buzzing" punches the listener in the face with a "Skin Like Winter" energy that, when coupled with the drive of the rest of the record, seems to set aside the "Zao plod" of (Self-Titled) to just let out bursts of sheer frustration with its driving hooks and fast overall pace. Incidentally, frustration, loss, and futility are the overarching themes of the record, exemplified in the next track, "Suspend/Suspension," which seems to detail a friend's suicide; it plays much like a combination of the Blood and Fire and (Self-Titled) sounds with its lyrics and extended electronic outro (of questionable necessity, but it's at least mildly interesting). The title track follows, a major highlight of the disc; it's a head-bobbing, Godzilla-stomping bit of greatness that combines the quickness of Liberate with the plodding-beast qualities of their junior release with Weyandt. Afterwards comes "Angel Without Wings," probably the closest Zao will ever come to a distortion-driven ballad outside of "The Dreams That Don't Come True." It's an uptempo rocker with the emotion of the aforementioned "Dreams…" about someone very close to Dan who has been "always there for [him]" through everything. This is the only song from this album Zao seems to ever play live; I understand why, but it's too bad they don't feel this way about more of the songs on this record. Also, in this song and the following tune, "Killing Cupid," we get another taste of Dan's clean vocals; though to some they may seem dispassionate, they also seem to fit the tone of the record (and thankfully are not high and whiny). The pace stays steady with "Free the Three," a song reviling the authorities who put away the West Memphis Three (who were recently acquitted and released; Zao has since "retired" this song); it's probably one of Zao's angriest tunes, both musically and lyrically.
Only when we get to "Man in the Womb" does the record downshift, albeit temporarily. It's one of Zao's quirkier works, consisting of an acoustic guitar backing what I assume are Jesse Smith's vocals, because neither Dan nor Scott sound anything like the voice in the song at all; it's a cynical musing that, quite frankly, sounds like Marilyn Manson trying to cover Johnny Cash. Somehow, though, it manages to succeed within the framework of the album as a whole. "A Pirate's Prayer" revs the engine back up for the album's last all-out rocker, featuring one of Zao's catchiest breakdowns at its end along with a vague but welcomed could-be reference to Christ in "But the candle burns alone. It guides us safely home." "The Ballad of Buddy Bigsby" continues the Zao instrumental tradition, as well as their brief experiment with electronica; it comes off as a bored Jesse Smith day at the synth, but it's actually pretty entertaining and fits the whole "chaos" theme of the album. "How Are The Weak Free" wraps things up with an ominous sound that I once read described as having something like a desolate-desert-highway-at-high-noon feel, which is more than adequate given its subject matter (the song's title pretty much sums it up). Though it's not the explosion of "At Zero" or the beauty of "Violet," it's a satisfying and appropriate way to round out the album.
It's great that Zao could follow up one of their least cohesive works with one of their tightest, especially given the circumstances under which it was created. Though most would not go to this record as the "quintessential" Zao, Parade of Chaos is certainly a shining jewel in their discography. Like most of Zao's work, this is a hard one to find at your local music store, so pick it up immediately if you can find it; it's more than worth the effort.- Review date: 11/10/11, written by Steven Powless of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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