Zao had already made a name for themselves, working up from the underground, with a 7″, cassette demo(s) and 2 full-lengths. They were quickly becoming known for taking hardcore in a new direction. I remember a friend telling me that although he loved the riffs on their sophomore effort Splinter Shards the Birth of Separation, he also found them really hard to dance to. With the third album, they would push the metallic limits of hardcore even further. From those opening riffs you knew this was going to be something special. It was one of the first (if not THE first) time we’d heard black metal-influenced rasps in hardcore. And while their influences might have been obvious (Carcass, At the Gates), they were combining them in ways not heard before, all the while creating a whole new generation of imitators, and ushering in the era of “metalcore.” Love it or hate it, it all started here.
And yet, stereotypes and cliches aside, this was a very passionate album. I remember telling a friend (who was NOT in heavy music at all) that I found it easier to worship to music like this than a lot of church music at the time. His response was a sort of stunned laughter. While the personnel in the band have changed as often as I change my socks, and unfortunately so have some of the beliefs of members in the band, this remains a truly groundbreaking album.
Check out the opening track here, and while you’re at it, go ahead and listen to the entire album.
So good. Zao from ’98-’02 has maybe my favorite four album stretch of any band.