Whenever I talk about Zao, I end up wanting to discuss every aspect of the band. This is probably because I’ve watched The Lesser Lights of Heaven DVD more times than I care to disclose, and definitely because Zao is my favorite thing to come out of the metalcore movement. I’m going to try my best to talk about “Xenophobe”without sounding like a shameless fan-boy. I’ll fail, but please give me credit for trying.
From the moment this track began, I had a smile on my face. This is Zao. This is metalcore in its most emotionally riveting form. The first thing I noticed was a return to a dirty sound. 2009’s Awake? had polished production and relatively safe songwriting, something many longtime fines disliked. Those who were worried that Zao had started to fall into the clichés of their scene can breath a sigh of relief… or I guess they could try as they get eviscerated.
The reunited guitar duo of Scott Mellinger and Russ Cogdell intermingle the more chaotic riffs heard on 2006’s The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here with the crushing heaviness of 1999’s Liberate Te Ex Inferis. However, “Xenophobe” sports an exceeding amount of technicality. Complete with a harmonious guitar solo followed by a proggy post rock passage (alliteration! I Love it!), Zao displays a flashier side without sacrificing the blistering assault they’re known for.
Speaking of blistering assaults, the high register stabs of “Xenophobe” could pierce a Minotaur’s heart, and the sludgy grooves could flatten a mountain. I thought I knew what Zao was capable of, and then the song hit the 2:10 mark. Chills ran up my spine as the band dropped into the heaviest, most dissonant, and most stand-outish breakdown/jam/crushfest I’ve heard in a while. I was head banging from the moment I heard it, and am still recovering from the resulting bangover.
The drums on this record are what you’d expect from Jeff Gretz. They’re precise, tasteful, and dynamic. This is hard to find within the metalcore genre, and I’m glad I can still find it in him. In a similar way, Marty Lunn continues to deliver what he’s known for – melodic bass sensibilities with an enduring hardcore ethos. The two musicians lock up to not only give the perfect rhythmic backdrop for the song, but to add depth to arrangements. And then… there’s Dan.
Oh man, where do I even begin with Dan Weydant. Besides being one of the (if not actually the) most profound lyricists in the metalcore genre, his vocal style is iconic and monstrous. If I had to compare the vocals on “Xenophobe” to previous outings, I’d put it somewhere between Liberate and The Fear. The distortion and aggression of the former is present, but the visceral layerings of the latter punctuate the emotional weight of his delivery. Lyrically, Dan goes in a more straightforward direction than many would expect from him. He’s still Dan though, so the discernable lyrics remain as irate as they are deep.
In short, I’m completely blown away by this single. Everything about it is perfect. The fact Zao can do so much within 3 minutes and 10 seconds attests to how incredibly musical they can be as a unit. Words can’t describe how excited I am to hear their upcoming material.