Zao

SHUFFLER 0016: BLANKETS OF DECEPTION

SHUFFLER 0016: BLANKETS OF DECEPTION
Friday, September 12, 2014
Zao – “Latter Rain” from When Blood and Fire Bring Rest (1998 Solid State/Tooth and Nail)

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Sometimes a band becomes a thing bigger than itself, a stubborn organism that feeds off of multi-color personnel timelines on Wikipedia and multiple paragraphs written about each of its different “eras,” soldiering on, illogically, with none of its original members.

Zao is one of these bands. They’ve been around since 1993, and I’m not going to pretend as though I’ve listened to everything they’ve produced in those twenty-one years (especially in the years since their line-up completely turned over). But still, this is my favorite era of Zao. I like it better than the eras I don’t know anything about. Here’s why.

In 1998, when this album came out, I was wearing oversized pants, Jack Purcells, and maybe a beaded choker. I was an evangelical Christian, and the singer of a Christian metallic hardcore band. In fact, here I am, doing most of those things, wearing a Zao shirt and everything:

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We were thrilled when circumstances aligned in such a way that we’d be playing three or four dates on Zao’s tour. Here are some things that I remember, in no particular order:

1) While there was bass on the album, Zao toured without a bass player, and was still incredibly heavy. I remember we marveled at that, having grown accustomed to the tuned-down heaviness of Disembodied in Minneapolis.

2) Zao was really nice, but also really cool, and it seemed they maybe had a sense of how cool they were. See points 3 and 4.

3) I think I first learned about the Atkins diet from Zao, who were scraping toppings off of pizza, leaving the crust. I guess my guitar player and I were vegan at the time, and I don’t know which is weirder.

4) Those dudes said “tight” all the time when they thought something was cool. This was also my first exposure to this phenomenon.

5) Wet, wet, terrible heavy wet blizzardy snow. The kind that strands vehicles en route to a show, which is then canceled. I remember spending the night at a hotel in Becker, Minnesota, a town whose main attraction at that time was a Subway sandwich shop.

6) I had one of my first cell phone experiences on this trip, with a cell phone that was about the size of a shoe.

7) Our show in Minneapolis was originally supposed to take place at a punk house on 25th and Grand. It may have had a clever name, this house, but I remember it as the 25th and Grand House. I don’t remember who set the show up, but apparently he didn’t talk to everyone who lived there, because not long after it was booked, one of the residents created a flyer that said “THIS IS AN ANTI-FLYER,” elucidating reasons why the show would not, in fact, be taking place at that house, reasons which I found preposterous at the time but probably mostly agree with now (I don’t remember what they were, but inasmuch as I’m pretty sure they were along the lines of “evangelism is bad, leave people alone,” I’m on board. I suppose the slippery slope there is that then you have to follow that to its logical extreme and not let Krishna/straightedge/vegan/political bands play at your house, too, since really, isn’t everybody selling something?). I’ve since befriended the gentleman who made the flyer and we’ve laughed about it.

Anyway, this song really is super heavy, and pretty slow, for the most part. I think a lot of people, maybe citing speed metal, make the mistake of thinking that playing ultra-fast is the key to being really heavy, and there are some faster parts here, but there’s something to be said for some real ominous plodding slow parts. Zao at this time was structuring their songs with so many different distinct segments that somehow all fit together in a cohesive fashion, it was really impressive. This song in particular really succeeds at creating an arc, an arc which I wish I could figure out how to describe as something other than epic. If memory serves, they stopped doing this shortly thereafter and things got a lot more formulaic.

And of course we have to talk about Daniel Weyandt’s vocals. The guttural, textured scream had, ironically, a real chthonic quality about it. It was the nineties, so he also made use of the obligatory affected emotive spoken part (speaking lyrics that were also affected and trying just a bit too hard), but even that holds up today in my opinion.

I only wish there was a band today doing something like this half as well as Zao was then. Maybe there is. Somebody needs to let me know.

Zao fans from this era will be intrigued by the knowledge that there is an incredibly depressing Zao documentary DVD availalbe on YouTube. Somehow, the ridiculous drama that followed this era makes it that much more special in my mind.

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