Hardcore followers: Zao fuses its sound with metal flourishes and Christian fire.


Zao is a powerhouse of the metalcore scene, following the example of genre icons Earth Crisis, forging a hardcore/metal act unafraid of dabbling in other genres, and becoming known for passionate performances. But where Earth Crisis' sociopolitical stance is decidedly secular, Zao is faith-based, working the Christian music and Cornerstone festival circuit like a dope dealer does the corner on payday. One can't avoid the analogy as the band forges on without Jesse Smith, the act's visionary founder. (The new lineup features Dan Wyandt, providing the Carcass-style vocal growl, and guitarist Russ Cogdell, who date back to the band's second incarnation/album, and have been in and out of the lineup several times.) But if the band definitely misses Smith's exemplary percussion skills on its latest release, The Funeral of God, Zao still comes through with an intriguing album that continues to push the boundaries of its sound. Possibly Zao's most accessible album -- accompanied by a concept story of God's abandonment of man because of his ever-increasing wickedness -- its less aggressive sound and art-rock-ish pomp recall a metal-oriented King Crimson at times.


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