February 2001 is a month and year that I remember vividly. The reasons why are simple, I was going to a public high school after getting thrown out of a Christian academy, and I was selling caskets for a part time job. This month marked a transitional stage for me, as I would be fired from that job later in the year, but before the collapse of my position at the store, a record came out that aimed itself as one of my favorite metalcore records from that year, and I was reminded this year, specifically this morning about it. While most, if not all, the tracks from Zao’s “Self-Titled” are in my big playlist, some of the tracks ring in my head as I’ve once again find myself in the same pathos that I had when I was 18 years old, listening to this record. Zao “Self-Titled” is a record that has a variety of songs that mesh into the fabric of my own world, the greater world, and poetic enough to align itself amidst my favorites in terms of musical quality, and introspection.
Letter writing is a thing of the past, and yet the opening track of this record is a letter from Daniel to someone named Tiffany. It’s specific, and yet it completely hits you with the metalcore edge that Zao has been known to create, alongside some very specific feelings about love, and leaving someone. I’ve written a lot of letters, and the letter writing popularity is beyond small in 2019 than any other year you could mention. In today’s digital world, you’ll find that there’s a lot to consider in terms of communication, and Zao’s opening letter hit me hard back when I was 18 and now 18 years later, again as I just had to deal with another breaking point in my personal life. Jumping into the arena, of polyamory, I recently met a couple that essentially threw me out of their circle, not that I was far into it, and all I could think of as I saw the situation melt down, was this song. I even quoted the verse, “I’ll burn it down and walk away, let the fire warm my back, I wish you would say you hate me, it would make it so much easier,” and away we went. Of course, the callous nature of goodbye letters aside, this opening track sets up something that still resonates with me today, heartbreak mainly, but empowerment on the other side as well. Breaking up in 2019, regardless of whether it’s friends telling you to leave them alone, or it’s a marriage imploding, constitutes larger conversation about what happens in new media (Gershon, 2010). As for Zao’s opening song to a record that is now 18 years old, it resonates universally with my own pathos of being an ugly kid, without any dates, nor relationships, to where my self esteem is still ugly and now made even uglier by another rift in my social life.
Of the ten tracks that make up this record, Daniel Weyandt’s lyrical prowess shows, and he doesn’t write long prose, these are short, to the point, and really tear at the emotional composition that is real life, although not necessarily in the way that you may have been used to in the past. This includes songs about pro-life responses, slower songs about being unstable, and the larger scope of memory, and then we hit a stall, in which once again the rid starts to showcase the larger scope of what it is to be a human being stuck in the rat race, as “The Race of Standing Still” showcases a yearning for something more, and a repeated pattern that I related with at age 18, and now at 36 even more so because of having to work for a living.
What does it mean to stand still? Have you ever thought about that for a moment? Many people don’t think about that at all, they assume that they are progressing in life, age, and other arenas. But what if you wanted to stay still? Zao’s song regarding the notion of racing towards the end but standing still is an oddity to me. It can mean a lot of things and I’m sure Weyandt has a grasp of what he was thinking at the time, but as a listener, I’m thinking about the frustration of career decisions. As I sit here and type this, I’m at a job I hate, but one cannot simply change it. Not only that, the world is conflicted in career change problems. AM Young, for instance, discusses the idea of frustration instigated career decisions, and it really is something that hits me with a conjunction to this song (Young, 2009). It truly is a race of standing still, a frustration filled working world as an adult, and yet Zao’s frenetic metalcore taste, and then drops into breakdowns reflect the realities of a job I’m stuck in. I feel like I’m standing still, and yet I’m racing towards something, a pendulum that is worth mentioning here.
Rewind time, 2001, and I was sitting at the casket retailer and thinking about mistakes made. One such mistake still haunts me and that’s the dismissal of a young lady that has blocked me from social media engagements. Her life, I’ve seen flourish despite a simple relationship that didn’t get far, explode due to my lack of understanding of depression, and more. What should’ve been an easy path towards something grand, turned into a lamentation that I still think about today. This notion finishes up the song “The Dreams That Don’t Come True”, and it’s a wound that will probably never heal. “I prepare a mantle inside of my heart, with your photograph to sooth the scars, unable to be erased unable to be forgotten, as ai grow older I will dream”, as Zao’s song of loss and love come through, and yet I am reminded of all the regrets that I have in my life. This is not just a love song, it’s a song of death, as I think about nephew’s murder, and relationships past. How trivial my heart, when this song reaches the depths. Zao’s focus on metal and heart really come through in a song that doesn’t even have that many verses.
It’s funny that scholars focus on extreme forms of music and try to make sense of it. This is something that speaks volumes to the notion of coping with stress, sensation changes, heart rate variables, and so much more. It’s fascinating to me that there is such an academic element tied to metal, for instance. Leah Sharman, for instance, focuses on the notion of anger processing in a journal write up that she wrote in 2015 (Sharman, 2015). She finds that extreme metal music assists with anger management and could even allow for neuroscientific base studies. Suffice to say, Zao’s contribution to the musical world may not hit everyone the same way, but “Self -Titled” sews together pieces of my life’s puzzle in a way that is far greater than the sum of the metalcore genre for most.
Zao has gone through a lot of transformations, or what some call evolutions. I’ve seen them in every decade of my musical learning experience. It was as a teenager that I first heard “Liberate Ex Inferis”, then “self-titled” came out, “Parade of Chaos”, and much more. I’ve seen Zao with Dan singing, Cory singing, in small venues, giant venues, and empty venues all the same. As I reflect with Zao’s “self-titled” record, I can’t help but wonder about my personal transitions, and where I am today versus where I was when I first heard “Skin Like Winter” from one of the most interesting of Zao’s records for me. I’m not that person, and yet, Zao sometimes feels like the same band, and isn’t that the markings of great bands sometimes? It’s just them. Zao’s “self-titled” record is just them, only with a leap into digital constructed drumming, and triggered, bass heavy, palm muted guitars with growls, screams, and singing to move around with.