Sometimes growth is a bad thing. Bands grow older, take on more responsibility, take an interest in different or the same approach much to their detriment, and fade out, sometimes taking their credibility with them before submerging under the strength of their earlier work, their later material a disappointing denouement into mediocrity.

And then, sometimes growth is the blossoming of an idea, shaped and honed and chiseled away by time, revealing something that’s purer and more honest, perhaps more informed by contemporaries and trends, but lending to a composition that is all the better for it. And that’s what we have here with the eleventh studio album by ZAO, the band that just keeps on living despite the odds and storied history they’ve consistently fought uphill against.

What is damningly clear on this album is a well-needed maturity and depth that doesn’t feel put upon or grasping at straws. This is a heavy, crushing album, with enough complexity and banging riffs that it’s a joy to listen to. It’s also an emotional album that rides the highs of frantic, energetic blasts of exultation, and skims the lows of morose meanderings. While other bands that introduce melodies tend to grate or else unduly whine, these melodies are an altogether different beast. There’s nothing whiny or adolescent about this delivery of pain and anguish. It’s a very real understanding of what it means to suffer, and The Well-Intentioned Virus delivers on that front. The production adds to the overall violence and destruction, managing to be both subdued and yet horrendously, hideously loud. The best metaphor I can come up with is a bed of nails: it’s vicious and sharp, but overall it’s a joy to listen to.

Check out the song “A Well-Intentioned Virus”

But perhaps most importantly, this album pushes metalcore in a different direction (at least I hope it does, since the genre sorely needs it). There is not one wasted moment, it’s a tragic, artfully captured album, and though it very rarely taps previously explored veins and archetypal moments, overall the experience is frankly original for the group and cleverly paced. It’s a comfort to hear a band with as many releases and relentless touring as ZAO step up and release something that arguably stands as one of their best releases to date.

The Well-Intentioned Virus Track Listing:

01. The Weeping Vessel
02. A Well-Intentioned Virus
03. Broken Pact Blues
04. Jinba Ittai
05. Apocalypse
06. Xenophobe
07. Haunting Pools
08. Observed/Observer
09. The Sun Orbits Around Flat Earth Witch Trials
10. I Leave You In Peace

Run Time: 42:21
Release Date: December 9, 2016