For the past few weeks, I have been perplexed at how to review the new Zao album. I’ve listened to it many times and I feel that while album reviews can be helpful in promoting a band’s work and getting fans excited, reviews will always fall short of that magical experience a listener will have when they hear it for themselves. With that said, I will do my best to give Zao’s latest release, “The Crimson Corridor,” the justice it deserves.
The Pennsylvania-based band has been pioneers of their genre since the mid-nineties. They revolutionized the scene when their third full-length, “Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest” hit the market, and everyone everywhere was dumbfounded at the colossal sound emerging from Dan Weyandt’s throat. Between the EP’s, the re-issues, and the remix albums, it has been hard to keep track of Zao’s extensive discography, but it seems as though we can count “The Crimson Corridor” as their twelfth full-length album. The album will be released on April 9th through Observed/Observer Recordings.
When the band released their album teaser earlier this year, fans knew they could expect something monumental. Not only was there a taste of brutal metal, but the band renewed its logo once again- signifying another wave of creativity and chapter in their long legacy. The cover art features a hand reaching from behind a darkened doorway. Zao drummer, Jeff Gretz gave me a little insight on the album’s concept stating, “The general theme of ‘The Crimson Corridor’ is in simple terms…the dark places of the mind and psyche and being drawn/pulled into them.” Long-time fans of the band know that Dan has often written songs about nightmares and dreams, so the theme of “The Crimson Corridor” should come as no surprise. The band chose to work with “horror” photographer Christopher McKenney for their album art- giving this release another aspect of trepidation.
As the first three strums of the opening track, “Into the Jaws of Dread,” ring out, long-time fans will recognize a similar sludgy guitar tone likened to the one used on Zao’s “Liberate te ex Inferis” album. The instrumental track continues for over four minutes, intensifying as it progresses until it transitions into the next song, “The Ship of Theseus.” Dan Weyandt is arguably metal’s most brilliant lyricist, and while I am not one to attempt deciphering the meaning of any of his songs, I wonder if “The Ship of Theseus” is describing the evolution of the band itself. Despite the drama of their early days, it has now been sixteen years of consistency in both the band’s lineup and the quality of music they continue to release. This is the Ship of Theseus. This is Zao.
The first single, “Croatoan,” was released on March 5th and was received with extremely positive reviews. The song, while slower-paced in many parts, still has a violent feel and reeks of calamity. My favorite moment is at the 2:40 mark, where a quick guitar riff ushers in an unexpected and monstrous transition that repeats the bridge until the end of the song. Another highlight of “Croatoan” is the clean vocals at the beginning of the song. While Zao is known for the massive vocal delivery of their frontman, it should be noted that Scott’s clean vocals on “Croatoan,” “Nothing’s Form,” and “Lost Star” really add an eerie, yet beautiful component of what makes The Crimson Corridor such a masterpiece.
There is not a weak spot on this record. Every track is unique and incredible. Some of the songs are much different than what Zao has done before. “R.I.P.W.” sounds like it is written in a 6/4 time signature, giving it an obscure feel as it progresses along. “Creator/Destroyer” has a nearly two-minute spacey instrumental break but is no less ferocious, and if you don’t count the several minutes of falling rain and odd clapping at the end of re-recording of Zao’s debut “All Else Failed,” the last song on The Crimson Corridor is the longest song Zao has written. “The Web” closes the album with ten and a half minutes of sludge and doom.
I have listened to this album on repeat over the last month and find something new to appreciate with each spin. My love for Zao runs deep- they have been one of my all-time favorite bands since I first heard them in 1997. I’m sure it is due to nostalgia, but “Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest,” and “Liberate te ex Inferis” will always be my favorites. With that said, “The Crimson Corridor” is right up there with those Zao classics. The band has continued to impress fans with its musicianship, lyrical content, and longevity and this latest release is undoubtedly some of their best work.