by: Zao

This ever-changing lineup has brought their fourth album, Self-Titled. With Scott Mellinger on guitar, Rob Horner on bass, Dan Weyandt at vocals, and Jesse Smith behind the drums, Zao seems content to blast out the brutally heavy death metal with a few curveballs. The drums are one of the first things that the listener will notice, as they have more of a blast beat sound, similar to drumming that dark metal band Nile has perfected. They resonate as very artificial and almost synthesized sounding, reminiscent of Scandinavian black metal. The bass doesn't seem too prevalent in the mix, but the drums and guitars certainly are, as are extras like keyboards and more guitars. This album breathes with lots of heavy, death metal guitars. Vocally, Weyandt sounds as sick as ever, and Smith pitches in on a few tracks with some actual singing, showing Zao's range and potential. Weyandt's vocals are remarkable, though. Primarily demonic sounding low-pitched growls, they amazingly have some scope to them with whispers in parts and torture-rack screaming on others. Weyandt and Smith's lyrics are noteworthy as well, covering topics such as women that lead men on, trash talkers, lost dreams, and murder. While there are a few tracks on Self-Titled that could have been left out, others, such as "The Dreams That Don't Come True," show Zao at their best, combining Smith's singing with Weyandt's deep growls along with beautifully melodic guitars that shift into death-defying low-ends. While this album isn't Zao at their prime, it does show a nice progression to their work, as well as a good degree of creativity from a genre that is all too often noted for redundancy. ~ Kurt Morris

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