Zao are one of those bands that feel like they’ve been around forever, yet somehow they never broke it big. Being one of metalcore’s elder statesmen – they’ve been around for almost every stage of the genre’s evolution and have witnessed countless bands and trends come and go, all while watching from the sidelines, quietly putting out solid album after solid album of no-nonsense, destructive metalcore. And perhaps this is why Zao never really clawed their way out of the underground: they’ve got no big, catchy choruses, they don’t spend half their songs abusing an open first string, and they don’t write songs about getting dumped by the head cheerleader. If bands like Zao had been at the forefront of the metalcore movement at the beginning of the 2000s, perhaps we’d have more albums like this, and fewer like this. But that’s neither here nor there. What’s important is that, less than a year after their top-shelf album The Well-Intentioned Virus, Zao are back with a forceful new EP titled Pyrrhic Victory.
If you’ve heard Zao before, you know what’s coming. They’re not gonna throw any curveballs at you, and they’re not suddenly going to shake up their style. You can expect violent riffs, pulverising drumming, and Daniel Weydant’s acidic harsh vocals. It’s a formula that’s worked before, and it’s one that still works now. In fact, it’s rather comforting to see that despite all the changes metalcore has gone through (for better or worse) Zao are still very much Zao, and are very likely to remain Zao for a long time to come.
They make this quite clear on the album’s first song, “Drifting Shadows in Walking Dreams.” The song starts by having some thrashy riffs kick the door down before the vocals come howling for blood. Weydant’s a pissed off dude, ain’t no question about that. What few lyrics I could understand through his vitriolic delivery certainly weren’t about sunshine n’ lolipops. Towards the song’s back end we’re met with some towering riffs before the song transitions into “Gifts of Flowers and Stone.” This song features my favourite riff of the EP, right at the 0:11 mark. The song also features a rather slick guitar solo that just keeps getting better and better as it goes on. So far so good.
Unfortunately, it’s on the next track that things get a touch iffy. The one aspect of Zao’s sound I’ve never really been a big fan of are the clean vocals. On “Clawing, Clawing, Never Cutting Through” (seriously, these guys have nailed the art of naming songs) they’re particularly grating. Fortunately, there’s enough violent metalcore energy in the drum and riffs that I can let it slide. “The Host has Barred its Teeth” is pretty much your standard Zao track. It’s angry, fast and frantic, and while there’s nothing on it that stands out to me as much as the material on the other songs, it’s still a fun track. The final song, “Feed it Pain,” may just be my favourite of the bunch. After a tension-building start, the song explodes into action, with every band member displaying a mastery of their instrument. It then lulls into a mid-song ambient interlude before its venomous, massive ending.
Long story cut short: if you’re a Zao fan, you’re gonna like this. If you’ve never heard em, it’s as good a jumping-on point as any. If you’re not a fan, you’re probably not even reading this review. For those who turn up their noses at metalcore, perhaps Zao will be the ones to lower your nasals. They’ve got themselves one hell of a discography, in which Pyrrhic Victory is yet another shining addition.
You can find Pyrrhic Victory on Zao’s Bandcamp page.