With The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here forming their eighth full-length release, this is neither the time nor the place for a Zao history lesson. While the uninitiated will discover in Zao a band who are devastatingly brutal, yet not bound by the restrictive confines of the American heavy music “scene”; for those in the know, this is quite simply the best progression from The Funeral Of God we could have hoped for.
Dan Weyandt has left behind the mentally taxing concept album theme for this album, choosing instead to discuss issues such as American history, politics and social superficiality. Oh and uh, there’s a zombie love song too.
While The Funeral Of God was foreboding and epic, painting a bleak picture of the future, The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here manages to be just as confrontational and provocative but does this through short, sharp bursts of seemingly unrelated metallic mayhem.
Although the record may have been recorded in under three weeks and produced by the band themselves, The Fear’s sound engineer is truly legendary. Steve Albini has fashioned a lo-fi, old-fashioned approach to recording heavy music that spans genres and has helped to define rock history.
Having captured classic moments from both Nirvana and Neurosis, it was initially Albini’s interest in Zao that led to the project being possible, and without the use of a single computer he has once again created what could become a landmark album.
Physician Heal Thyself is a crushing reintroduction to Zao at their finest, and for every off-kilter noise-core break, there is an even more groovy riff to thrash your head along to.
As the biting verses of It’s Hard Not To Shake With a Gun In Your Mouth pay testament to, Zao have been afflicted since their inception with the “curse” of being unashamed to openly proclaim their spiritual beliefs, only to be stabbed in the back by some of the more “zealous” members of the heterogeneous body that is the Christian church in America.
Regardless of those who think Zao are merely proselytising through the medium of metal, or others who feel that the band are poor ambassadors for their faith, it is inspiring to witness a group of individuals who humbly but boldly stand in a no-man’s land of belief, enduring torrents of abuse and criticism from both sides simultaneously. Don’t let this humility fool you though – they might not be arrogant knuckleheads but Zao still have more bite than a livid pit bull.
Kingdom Of Thieves takes the opportunity to question the legitimacy of the conquest of Native Indian America by non-indigenous invaders, while Pudgy Young Blondes With Lobotomy Eyes is a scathing attack on certain young ladies who “keep their fingers down their throats to attract all the guys / who will drug them and take them home to his friends / she’ll wake up the next day and do it again”, set to a soundtrack of Norma Jean-esque havoc.
In sharp contrast to Zao’s last record, it would appear that subtle and complex suggestion is most certainly not the order of the day for The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here, a move which gives songs like American Sheets On The Death Bed a ferocious potency.
In response to his government’s policies, Mr Weyandt satirically labels America “one nation above God Himself”. Whilst this may be a move that will win Zao few friends in the Oval Office, this album should win them far more elsewhere. If you’re trying to change the world, perhaps that’s a better place to start.