The Fear is What Keeps Us Here is the umpteenth full-length from this chaotic and erratic off and on metalcore act. The fact that they are still producing albums boggles my mind. I have always considered this band to be a guilty pleasure (in part anyway). That last album The Funeral of God was an awful example of what they were capable of doing. When I watched the long, drawn out Lesser Lights of Heaven DVD, I was horrified to actually learn how dysfunctional (or rather how non-dysfunctional due to the band not living up to the rumors) that they were. Now, this latest record was not unknown to me. I awaited it while cringing at how low they could possibly go. With the complete lack of original members, Zao entered the studio with Steve AlbiniÃ¢â¬Â¦STEVE ALBINI. Apparently, he asked to record them (he refuses to call it producing), which is dumbfounding. However, two aspects of this record completely took me by surprise.
One, obviously the production plays a large part in how The Fear is What Keeps Us Here sounds. By all indications, Albini despises over production and limits the uses of digital enhancement when possible. This is a very live sounding recording, another Albini hallmark. It is very raw sounding for Zao and is sure to shock long time fans and kids who picked up this band more recently. Personally, this "new" sound is much more appealing to my taste, and I believe that it helps the record a great deal.
Two, Scott Mellinger used to play guitar in often-underappreciated almost obscure band called Creation Is Crucifixion. I was and still am a huge fan of theirs. The reason why I find the need to mention this is that Mellinger seems to reach back into his past experience with that outfit to pull out new stops for Zao on The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here. It is crazy to hear similarities between the two bands since Mellinger has been in Zao now for roughly seven years. These new elements that he incorporates breathe a bit of new life into Zao on this new album.
Regardless, The Fear is What Keeps Us Here contains some of the heaviest songs that Zao has ever written. "Physician Heal Thyself" is a crushing track that comes across with the intent of running you over with sound. Opening with a Creation Is Crucifixion type guitar part that peppers the track, the song absolutely thrashes from beginning to the grooved out ending. "Everything You Love Will Soon Fly Away" (no, this is not the most ridiculous song title on the album) seethes with a sense of urgency that propels the track at a manic pace that only barely slows down until the spoken word like bridge. Then, the cacophonous noise gives way to the same manic riff that smacks its signature all over the track.
"It's Hard not to Shake with a Gun in Your Mouth" (still not the most ridiculous song title) opens in a manner that forces you to close your mouth with your hand after the opening guitar part rips into your conscious. Mellinger pulls this right from the Creation Is Crucifixion notebook. This part is pulled out of nowhere many times over the course of the song. The rest of the song is rather simple and pedestrian and includes some more of the clean singing that was found all over Zao's last album as well as another spoken word like vocal part found in "Everything You Love Will Soon Fly Away".
"Killing Time 'Til Its Time To Die" sounds suspiciously like Refused's "Refused Party Programme", in the words of the immortal Stan Lee, "'Nuff Said." Besides winning the contest for worst song title ever, "Pudgy Young Blondes with Lobotomy Eyes" is a scorching number. There is also a pretty nice groove to parts of the song that make it interesting before falling into this kind of eerie/ kind of pretty sounding interlude. "My Love, My Love (We've Come Back from the Dead)" sounds extremely similar to something found on their album Parade of Chaos. "American Sheets on the Deathbed" has more of the Creation Is Crucifixion type riffs in it as well as laying down more fast grooves that exist throughout The Fear is What Keeps Us Here. "A Last Time for Everything" ends the album appropriately with a repeating vocal and furious drumming that slowly succumbs to a static-y grave.
The Fear is What Keeps Us Here is a decent album from this long-standing circus of a band. Zao inject just enough new juice into their formula to keep people interested and following them, which is a testament to how they have steadily built their fan base over the years. Some people do not like the sound of this record, but I stand by the job that Steve Albini completed with this record. It is a different sound (to an extant because this band does what it does) that gives the band a rawer element to their body of work. Other than the fact that much of this record sounds formulaic and the ridiculousness of the song titles and the layout is printed backwards, it is pretty good. So, after taking away the obligatory 1.5 rating points for the bands association with the metalcore sub-genreÃ¢â¬Â¦here is it is Zao's The Fear is What Keeps Us Here.
6.6 / 10
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Posted June 14, 2013, 9:28 p.m.
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