Zao is an American Metalcore band formed in 1993. They began their career playing hardcore punk, but the original lineup almost completely disbanded after their second album. The sole remaining member was drummer Jesse Smith, who kept the name and recruited a new roster. With the new members came new musical influences. Other bands before them had fused elements of hardcore and metal, but Zao's music (particularly the albums Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest and Liberate Te Ex Infernis) proved to be tremendously influential on modern Metalcore. While they never quite reached the same level of commercial success as many of the bands they influenced, they are often considered one of the Trope Codifiers of the Metalcore genre.Zao now has no original members remaining, after the departure of Jesse Smith in 2004. Longtime members Dan Weyandt (vocals), Scott Mellinger (guitar), and Russ Cogdell (guitar) are often seen as the "core" of the band's modern incarnation.
Artistic License: The title Liberate Te Ex Infernis is supposed to mean "Free yourself from Hell", but the Latin is grammatically incorrect. It should be either "Libera Te Ex Infernis" or "Liberate Vos Ex Infernis".
Christian Metal / Not Christian Rock: They began their career as an explicitly Christian band. Defining their sound as "Christ-centered hardcore", the majority of their lyrics focused on God and spirituality. After the departure of most of the original roster and the addition of mainstays Dan Weyandt and Russ Cogdell, Zao began moving in a different direction, both musically and lyrically. While many of their lyrics were still noticeably Christian, it was in a darker, more introspective way, and they also focused on other topics such as personal struggles, broken relationships, and social commentary. Since the current incarnation of the band includes both Christian and non-Christian members, they prefer to think of themselves as a group of open-minded artists. Despite this, fans still debate on whether they could or should still be considered a Christian band.
Concept Album: The Funeral of God tells a story in which God, weary with the path humanity has chosen for itself, decides to leave the the world. Society quickly degenerates into war and destruction, and mankind eventually decides to change their ways, waiting for God to return.
Liberate Te Ex Infernis featured more minimalistic production, more brutal and creepy riffs, and Dan's Carcass -influenced shrieks, which can at times be genuinely unsettling. The band has later said that the album's sound was heavily inspired by Neurosis.
As a whole, they are often considered to be this compared to many of the metalcore bands that came after them. As Metal Hammer UK put it:
"If the melodic end of the genre has been taken by Killswitch Engage then the extreme end of the Kingdom belongs to Zao. No question."
Dude Looks Like a Lady: No, that's not a chick on the cover of Liberate. That's Jesse, when he was going through an emo phase.
Eagle Land: Songs like "Kingdom of Thieves" and "American Sheets on the Deathbed" definitely portray America as a Type 2.
Lead Bassist: Dan was briefly this in the early 2000's, handling both vocals and bass at their live shows before they hired a new bassist.
Meaningful Name: Their name is derived from the Greek word for "alive" or "to have life".
New Sound Album: Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest is the most prominent example, marking their shift from hardcore to metalcore. Most of their albums since then have featured tweaks and changes to their sound, though never crossing over into a different genre. (Self Titled), for instance, includes electronic and industrial elements, while The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here has Grindcore and Black Metal influences.
Protest Song: "Free the Three" protests the imprisonment of the West Memphis Three, three men who were convicted (many believe falsely) of murder in 1993. After their release from prison in 2011, the song was retired from Zao's live set.
Revolving Door Band: They've had a lot of lineup changes. However, from 2005 onward, the roster has remained pretty consistent.
Self-Titled Album: Somewhat of a subversion. (Self Titled) isn't actually called "Zao", the title of the album is literally "Self Titled".
Soprano and Gravel: Starting with The Funeral of God, Scott Mellinger has begun to compliment Dan's harsh vocals with clean vocals, mostly on the choruses.