Once again, the legendary ZAO has returned with their tenth studio album Awake? Three years have passed since the release of their 2006 breakthrough release, The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here, which marked the end of the band's two-album contract with Ferret Music. In 2008, the band re-signed to Ferret and much anticipation was expected for their next studio album, as well as the return of former guitarist Russ Cogdell. (Needless to say, die-hard fans at the Greensburg, Pennsylvania stop of the 2008 Stronger Than Hell tour, where ZAO performed alongside Demon Hunter; Russ was not present on stage.) So with the direction the band took with The Fear... and with As I Lay Dying vocalist Tim Lambesis involved with the production of the album, anticipation for Awake? was very high.
Basically, the lineup is the same as it was three years ago: Dan Weyandt on vocals, Scott Mellinger on guitar, Marty Lunn on bass, and drummer Jeff Gretz have all returned for this release. Scott's guitar tracks are just as heavy and brutal as they were from the days of Liberate te ex Inferis. Dan's screaming voice is still a landmark in the hardcore genre, but there are a couple of tracks, "1,000,000 Outstretched Arms" and "The World Caved In," where he offers some spoken word lyrics as well. It's not so bad, but it sounds like Dan was only speaking into the microphone plainly and there is no passion behind the words he says.
For the most part, ZAO has attempted to completely separate from Christian music and have chosen to tackle hard topics such as suicide, hypocrisy, and apathy in our culture. Perhaps the most spiritual track on the album is "What Will You Find," which speaks about a closed-minded individual who only accepts what he or she believes is truth, "You conform your faith, Making your opinion truth, Lash out every time something disagrees with you, You're obsessed with protecting some type of pride." The album finishes with the second part of "Quiet Passenger Pt. 2," called "The World Caved In," a farewell song to a high school friend who was very close to guitarist Scott Mellinger: "The world caved in on my friend today, With his shaking hands, He closed his eyes and he walked away without a reason or goodbye."
There is usually one question that pops into my head upon listening to Awake? over and over again: Is this their best material to date? The answer is definitely "No," but this album is an evident improvement over The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here. The songs are professionally recorded and have more of a raw and unpolished feel when compared to their previous material. Christian fans of the group will need to keep an open mind and not expect an evangelical message while listening to ZAO. Fanatics of hardcore metal will enjoy being Awake? and need to add this album to their music collection.
**UPDATE: On 10/20/08, the band posted an updated Q&A on their myspace and answered the Christian band question with, "You'll have to get the DVD for a full answer to this commonly asked question. Think more along the lines of Johnny Cash, U2 or Nick Cave when it comes to Zao and faith. Jeff (drums) is the only member that does not consider himself a Christian at all."
On 9/23/08, the band announced recording a new album with the same band lineup as 2006's The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here, which is contrary to an announcement made in 2007 about member changes and a refocusing on God. Around 2006, the band had made it clear that they wanted to distance themselves from the Christian music industry. With that known, we recommend you look into and research records like The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here (and perhaps The Funeral of God) before purchasing them, due to the nature of some of the songs' content and the band's intentions during the time that these albums were made... and to keep an eye on their future work.
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