01. The Buzzing
03. Parade Of Chaos
04. Angel Without Wings
05. Killing Cupid
06. Free The Three
07. Man In The Womb
08. A Pirate's Prayer
09. The Ballad Of Buddy Bigsgy
10. How Are The Weak Free
2002 Solid State Records
Allow me to begin by saying that the last Zao album I even thought was tolerable was "The Splinter Shards The Birth Of Separation," a disc that forever altered the way I listened to music. I have subsequently loathed each of their albums and have been infuriated that the band has consisted of one original member for quite some time now. When I saw that they were breaking up, I thought it was the best news I had heard all year. Until I heard the new CD, that is. This disc is incredible. Since my first listen, this has not left my CD player.
"The Buzzing" immediately kicks off with the best riff that Metallica never wrote. While this might not come as a shock to anyone familiar with the state of hardcore today, Zao uses the riff effectively to structure the song, rather than embellish it. The drums for this track are equally distinctive; rather than grind through the song with ripping double bass, (drummer) swings through the song with an up-tempo, almost poppy beat that makes the song incredibly refreshing.
From there, the disc moves into tracks like "Suspend/Suspension," which throws in the slow grind that we've come to know and love. Aside from the singing on this song, which really bothers me, this song is another quality track. The same applies to the disc's title track which throws the tempo into high gear again, feeling almost like Anthrax or Pantera at times, in its' pure, unadulterated thrash. "Angel Without Wings" starts off with guitars and drums stolen straight from the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," even using what sounds like a tambourine at times. Yet again, I am amazed by the imagination Zao shows in breaking the pre-conceived notions of what hardcore (or even hard music in general) should sound like.
Zao's influences shine through yet again in the Kerry King-style guitars of "Killing Cupid" and "Free The Three," both solid thrash with breakdowns thrown in for good measure. "Man In The Womb" follows these two bursts of speed, with a slow acoustic guitar over an annoying keyboard and mildly interesting drumming. It seems like they were going for Radiohead and ended up with Oasis. This track isn't terrific, but it is certainly forgivable in the context of the whole album. After this disappointment, "A Pirate's Prayer" (immediate points with me for the use of the word "pirate") jumps straight back into the metal vein that flows throughout "Parade of Chaos." A bizarre (but somehow quite fitting) techno track called "The Ballad Of Buddy Bigsby" leads into the final "How Are The Weak Free," a track whose repetitive lyrical theme "free the wolf/from his cage/watch him hunt/stalk his prey" fits quite well with the frequent swings of tempo and sound that really define this song.
Bottom Line: While this might not be what most (or any) of Zao's fans were expecting, I couldn't be happier with this CD. Since their second album, I have thought that Zao's music and production were an awkward fit, but everything about this disc fits together like the pieces of a puzzle. Aside from its occasionally repetitive nature (what metal or hardcore album isn't), I can't say anything negative about this record as a whole. It just seems like a shame that Zao has called it quits on the eve of their greatest triumph.