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Zao, The Well-Intentioned Virus'
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Zao
The Well-Intentioned Virus



Genre(s): Metal
Album length: 10 tracks: 42 minutes, 18 seconds
Street Date: December 9, 2016
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At one point in time, Zao was one of the biggest names in Christian metal and headlined Solid State's roster for several years. Since their 90's (and early 2000's) heyday, the band has undergone multiple line-up changes and a couple of breakups. The band (which contains no original members) is now returning with their first full-length album in 7 years. While Zao no longer considers themselves to be a "Christian band," The Well-Intentioned Virus, while lyrically dark, brings some noteworthy thoughts to the table. Buckle up for an awesome sounding metal experience with lyrics as dark and gloomy as anything I've heard since The Famine's final release, Architects of Guilt.

"The Weeping Vessel" starts the album out with a cool sounding clean guitar part before kicking it into the metal riff and screamed vocals that drive the rest of the song. The track is a solid opener and great reintroduction to Zao. The darkness factor kicks into full gear with the title tracks. The song appears to be a look into how certain Christians go overboard with their messaging. Lines like "Cries of persecution from the persecutor's tongue," "Frothing hordes of true believers; you are right, yes, you are right. You have been chosen to ruin countless heathen lives," and "They will become what they abhor; a well-intentioned virus posing as a cure" all seem to point to this idea. I can't help but think of Westboro Baptist Church while listening to this song. "Broken Pact Blues" is also a pretty cool song that is about someone on the verge of life and death. The lyrics describe a void between life and death and then plead, "Scratch, crawl and climb back to us." "Jinba Ittai" continues the metal goodness with another great sounding song that leads into the darker "Apocalypse." The lyrics, "You kill them as they sleep and watch the others weep; all alone. You do as you're told; you kill so carelessly. The road to your perfect world is paved on suffering and unmarked mass graves. Signal the apocalypse" make your skin crawl just a touch. While "Xenophobe" is an excellent song musically, the lyrics appear to be a shot at President-Elect Trump and/or his supporters: "Implant a thought, sow the seed, groom xenophobic racist seeds. Loud and dumb without folly; shouting, 'Stop evolving uber alles (German: above all else)."

The last half of the album remains solid, but doesn't quite carry the same weight as the first half. "Haunting Pools" is more of a mid-tempo metal jam and sends the pace into a small lull. "Observed/Observer" picks up the pace a little, but "The Sun Orbits Around Flat Earth Witch Trials" kicks things back up nicely. While musically the song is fantastic (the pinch harmonics on the guitar at the end of the song is an especially nice, and well-timed, touch), the lyrics present a rather grim outlook: "The past is fiction; forgotten and rewritten. The present, now the past; countless moments lapse. The future, lost teacher; a looming callus creature." "Lost in Peace" is the closer and runs over seven minutes in length. It's one of the darkest songs present and tells the story of a bloody war -- possibly the apocalypse itself. Given the tone of the album, this is the perfect song to close it out.

Zao's return isn't for the faint of heart. From the album art (the full imagine is even more disturbing) to the lyrics, The Well-Intentioned Virus is a bit of a rough listen. Musically, the album is brilliant and may be the best sounding metal album I've listened to this year. It's a reminder of why I originally loved Zao and why they were so highly regarded in the past. Lyrically, it's a lot to take in and digest. If you can see past the dark imagery and some of the doom and gloom, however, there are some thought-provoking pieces to consider. The best very likely comes in the title track and the message to well-intentioned Christians should be heeded. As believers we shouldn't be out doing the very things we speak or preach against. It's far from an effective method and, in most cases, does more harm than good. Longtime Zao fans should welcome this release and new fans should find plenty to enjoy. The album isn't marketed for a Christian audience, and while there isn't any major offensive material here, I'd still recommend that some caution be given due to the dark nature of the content. Hopefully this marks a full reunion for Zao and not just a one-off performance. Enjoy this metal gem and relish the return of Zao.

- Review date: 12/7/16, written by Michael Weaver of Jesusfreakhideout.com
A Second Opinion
Stars
It seems 2016 is shaping up to be a year of metal resurrection. Following excellent releases from neighbors in the genre, Zao looks to add to an impressive tally with their first album in seven years, The Well-Intentioned Virus. I must admit, I was filled with optimism going into the first listen, largely due to the legendary status of Zao in the Christian metal world and the remarkable momentum of the year to date. And while this album may not top the genre at the present time, it is a respectable and well executed effort in every regard. Although the album carries a consistent tone throughout, each track contributes a slightly different element. The release kicks off with "The Weeping Vessel" and the title track, during which the atmosphere is set, the album's direction clearly communicated, and the tempo begins to build. The haunting tones and hazy vocals in "Broken Pact Blues" are followed by the powerful "Jiba Ittai," the shortest and most engaging track on the release; this stands in contrast to the plodding "Apocalypse," which features a cleaner composition and, at almost 7 minutes, is one of two extended tracks on The Well-Intentioned Virus. On "Xenophobe" and "Haunting Pools," the pace returns, along with the introduction of creative guitar elements to keep an engaging progression. At this point, the album seems to simply maintain its course, with "Observed/Observer" and "The Sun Orbits Around Flat Earth Witch Trials" featuring many of the same characteristics discussed previously. The listener may also encounter a feeling that the album must either make a drastic directional change or come to an end, a sensation that heralds the approach of the closing track, "I Leave You In Peace". If there is one negative to the album, it is replay value. In a way, The Well-Intentioned Virus is like a piece of art in a reputable gallery; it carries a certain attraction and commands your attention, but you likely won't be going back weekly for the experience. All in all, The Well-Intentioned Virus is not only a splendidly grungy and distorted metal album, but also a notably paced and purposeful release. Zao have broken a seven-year silence with another strong addition to their famed discography and have gifted the metal genre an appropriate closing note for an outstanding year. - Review date: 12/7/16, Jeremy Barnes


Outline



    Zao might be living legends in the community of Christian heavy music, but they have never been anything like a typical Christian heavy act (for the record, Zao does not consider themselves "Christian"). They simply make dark music. And The Well-Intentioned Virus contains exceptionally dark music. It is a thinking person's album, with bold and condemning statements about the Church, about Christians, and about faith in general. But while being critical, it isn't an anti-Christian album. In fact, the messages are incredibly edifying for self- and socially-reflective Christians, though a little more grace (as opposed to wide-sweeping condemnation) would have made the first few listens more palatable. But lyrics notwithstanding, The Well-Intentioned Virus is easily one of the most catchy, awesome-sounding heavy albums released in the past several years. This is an exceptionally easy album to recommend for any fan of Christian heavy music, as long as you aren't expecting a simple message. - 12/12/16, Mark Rice of Jesusfreakhideout.com


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. Record Label: Observed/Observer Recordings
. Album length: 10 tracks: 42 minutes, 18 seconds
. Buy It: iTunes (Regular)
. Buy It: Amazon.com (Vinyl)
. Buy It: Amazon.com (Deluxe CD)
. Buy It: Amazon.com (Regular CD)
. Buy It: AmazonMP3 (Regular)

  1. The Weeping Vessel (4:10)
  2. A Well-Intentioned Virus (3:33)
  3. Broken Pact Blues (3:33)
  4. Jinba Ittai (2:52)
  5. Apocalypse (6:46)
  6. Xenophobe(3:10)
  7. Haunting Pools (3:12)
  8. Observed/Observer (3:43)
  9. The Sun Orbits Around Flat Earth Witch Trials (3:49)
  10. I Leave You In Peace (7:28)

 

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