Throughout the late 80's, the music industry witnessed the birth of a number of bands tapping into what has now become thrash metal. In the beginning, we were introduced to the first Christian thrash metal band called The Crucified. Afterwards, Vengeance Rising, Living Sacrifice, and others followed in their footsteps. Then in February of 1993, four young believers decided to go a step further and create one of the most controversial and longest running metal bands to come out of Christian music. Like many other bands at that time, the early Zao struggled to find label support but it wasn't until later on that their careers finally took off. They released their Solid State Records debut called The Splinter Shards The Birth Of Separation in 1997.
The first incarnation of Zao was first and foremost an evangelical Christian band created with the intentions of boldly delivering the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Their lyrics contain a very bold Christian message and the words to "Particle" are close enough to be labeled as a worship song, "I will lift You up, I will praise Your awesome name, For what it's worth and nothing less." Other great lyrics are included on "Endure," which tells how Christianity has survived for so long because it holds absolute truth, "It has been proven, It shall remain, This faith has stood the test, It persists through conflict, Through the revolts against its ways, Nothing has held true like this." Other tracks deal with life struggles and pointing the listener to Christ. One of the best qualities of the album include Shawn Jonas' long 15 to 20 second screaming vocals that appear throughout many of the songs, including "Times of Separation" and "Resistance."
Two words come to mind when I think of the music style of their early years: "very weird." In an interview, drummer Jesse Smith described the early Zao as a group of teens getting into metal for the first time and going crazy in the name of Jesus. Listening to their Solid State Records debut, I felt like I was listening to a local independent band that was musically just not there yet. All of the band members are talented, but the music tends to drastically slow down half way through almost every song. The songs are below average and sound good enough for demo quality. While listening to "The Children Cry For Help," it feels like the start of a good speed metal song but it slows down to Zao's typical music style after the first 20 seconds and continues at a slow pace for 5 minutes. Yes, 5 minutes long! Also, a few old tracks from their previous All Else Failed album, such as "Resistance," "Endure," and "Exchange," were re-recorded for this release. Nothing at all changed with the re-recorded songs, and you get the feeling that Zao could have been more creative and written two or three new songs.
One thing to remember is that this is a different version of Zao than what exists to this day. It is difficult not to compare this release to their later efforts, but I see it as pitiful heavy metal that should have never seen the light of day. Strong faith-oriented lyrics appear throughout this album, but there is just not much to enjoy about it. Die-hard fans of Zao might enjoy going back to see their faith-based roots, but I will be more than happy listening to Where Blood And Fire Bring Rest and Liberate te ex Inferis. Do yourself a favor and separate from Splinter Shards... if you can.- Review date: 12/24/08, written by Fred Keel of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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