ZAO: Awake?: CD

Awake? is Zao’s ninth album (or tenth—they re-recorded their debut eight years after its release) in their over fifteen-year existence. I think I’ve been following them for most of that and while I’ve not always been a huge Zao fan, I do recall using their music to get pumped up before intramural flag football games in college, over ten years ago. So we have a history. Their last album, the Steve Albini-recorded The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here, was a great album. The dirty, live sound made for a lot of energy and a raw feel that matched the sound of the band. Awake? on the other hand, was recorded by As I Lay Dying’s Tim Lambesis and while it sounds solid in a production sense, it’s not a sound that Zao necessarily should be pushing. After having been a forerunner of much of the metal-core sound, the latest album of ten songs sound like most of the artists who were trying to rip off Zao in the first place, including the played-out singing/screaming metal vocals. On past albums Dan Weyandt has shown he has some of the sickest vocals in metal, but here they seem boring and as though they’re going through the motions. My belief is that they were most likely eaten up in an attempt to go for a cleaner sound. If Zao were going to get back on the road and tour a ton (since 2007 they’ve become a studio band), I’d say this might be an album to help them really get noticed. It’s simple, straightforward, and has some fairly catchy riffs and choruses while still keeping a hard sound. Unfortunately, it’s that dialing down of any sense of wicked creativity that was evident at times on their former albums that causes Awake? to be an adequate, uninspired listen. And for a band that only exists in the studio that seems to be a killer. I’d say that they should call it a day, but with all the drama and line-up changes this band has produced, who knows what might happen in another two years?  –kurt (Ferret)