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
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