Zao- Awake?

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Sunday, May 24, 2009

If you’re one of those people who has been following metalcore for an extended period of time, it is almost one hundred percent likely that you are familiar with Zao in some form. The Pennsylvania based group has been around since 1993 and is considered by many as one of the first major metalcore acts that really made the style into what it is. Despite numerous lineup changes throughout the years Zao has always continued to put out albums, and are now on their ninth full length Awake? And while it is not the group’s best effort to date there are still noteworthy tracks that prove that these guys are still relevant.

The first thing that listeners are likely to notice is that the production is nowhere near as raw on Awake? as it was on 2006’s The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here. This proves to be one of the album’s main flaws, as the rawer sound of the previous release gave it a lot more energy when compared to this one. But this doesn’t mean that Awake? is a total bust right off the bat, as it does offer some great melodically oriented metalcore riffs. Zao’s instrumentalists are still some of the best when it comes to integrating chilling melodies in with extremely heavy metalcore, and tracks such as “Romance Of The Southern Spirit” and the title track of the album showcase this in a very big way. It’s just unfortunate that the cleaner production hurts rather than helps this release though, as it makes this an above average entry in Zao’s discography rather than an amazing one.

If you’ve listened to this group in the past ten years or so, the screams should instantly sound familiar. Vocalist Daniel Weyandt has a very rough and raw screaming style that has always stood out from many of the other groups in the genre, and he has continued to do so for Zao’s latest album. This time around the band also chose to include a lot more clean vocals than ever before, but when compared to the clean vocals on albums such as 2004’s The Funeral Of God they seem a lot less whiny. It does appear that the band kept this in mind and wanted the singing to be a lot more energetic and suited to the instrumentals this time around, and in this regard they have improved quite a bit.

Awake? is another solid effort from Zao that shows that they are still worth listening to, even if it is not their best. It may not be as good as 2006’s The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here or some of the group’s earlier material, but when compared to many of the other metalcore albums that have come out from other acts this year Awake? still manages to stand above many of them. I’m still hoping that Zao will be able to recapture the raw energy seen on their last album, but for now I’ll still be willing to listen to this one as these guys still know how to make a catchy melodically oriented riff.

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