04 May 2009
by Chris Cope
In days of fickle audiences and record labels who are increasingly likely to hawk up and spit out bands, reaching the ten album milestone is a feat to be celebrated. Three cheers then for Zao, with the prolific American metallers releasing their tenth LP, Awake?.
And aren’t we pleased that they’re still around to indulge us in aural battery. Awake? is a smorgasbord of sludgy riffing and spitting vocals and thankfully it manages to maintain a consistent level of ear-pricking for most of the ten songs.
The digit-riffic opener ‘1,000,000 Outstretched Arms Of Nothing’ bucks this trend however, a lethargic number which plods its big feet around without any purpose, but thankfully ‘Entropica’ and ‘The Eyes Behind The Throne’ whip up a frenzy reminiscent of pre-Blood Mountain Mastodon.
But like more modern-day Mastodon, there’s the clean singing in here too, engineering a profitable synergy with the growling. ‘Romance of the Southern Spirit’ is a bouncing track which enjoys an infectious sing-along in the middle whilst ‘Quiet Passenger pt.1’ features a classic metalcore esque chorus, although the clean vocals are a little feeble sounding.
This is a pretty consistent package overall but naturally there are peaks and troughs; for all the looping riffs and chunky breakdowns there is the odd moment where their brooding sound mushes together into distorted bombast with little to distinguish between the tracks.
Watch the 2006 video to ‘My Love, My Love (We’ve Come Back From The Dead)’ by Zao
The album ends with the acoustic outro of ‘Quiet Passenger pt. 2/The World Caved In’, a welcome stray from the ferocity which fizzed away before it, featuring guitar plucking that wouldn’t sound out of place on the next Opeth record. We’re left wondering why there isn’t more of this type of engaging downtime on the album, but hey, what can you do. Maybe something to think about for album number eleven then.
Top tracks: The Eyes Behind The Throne, Romance of the Southern Spirit
Sounds like: Mastodon, Norma Jean
Zao – Awake? tracklisting
1,000,000 Outstretched Arms Of Nothing
The Eyes Behind The Throne
Human Cattle Masses Marching Forward
Romance Of The Southern Spirit
What Will You Find?
Quiet Passenger Pt. 1
Quiet Passenger Pt. 2/The World Caved In