HOME TOWN: Greensburg, PA
Dan Weyandt (vocals)
Scott Melinger (guitar)
Marty Lunn (bass)
Jeff Gretz (drums)
"If the melodic end of the kingdom has been taken by Killswitch Engage then the extreme end belongs to Zao. No question." -- Metal Hammer magazine.
Zao's new album, "The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here," is due in June. Recorded by Steve Albini (Nirvana, Neurosis, The Pixies) the album combines the dark and creepy vibe of "Liberate" with the rock n' roll thunder of "Self-Titled" and the metallic fury of "The Funeral Of God."
Zao's storied career was documented on the two-disc "The Lesser Lights Of Heaven" DVD and the luminaries of today's heavy music scene are well aware of their debt to the band. Underoath and Unearth opened for Zao. Thrice and Fall Out Boy listened to Zao while growing up. As I Lay Dying invited Dan Weyandt to guest on their last album and Matt Heafy from Trivium joined the band onstage to perform "Praise The War Machine."
Greensburg, Pennsylvania isn't known for many things besides being in close proximity to the mall where George A. Romero filmed "Dawn Of The Dead." And the renegade spirit, commentary on the world around us, and personal introspection that drives the bespectacled filmmaker lives and breathes within Zao, a band whose backwoods roots have allowed them to stay one step ahead of the trends by staying true to their isolated selves.
Zao's original incarnation formed in the mid-90s with the evangelical zeal of Focused, the fervor of Earth Crisis and the image of vintage rockabilly. When that version of the band fell apart shortly after the 1997 Cornerstone Festival, Zao as it would come to change the course of heavy music was born in the fires of creative tension.
"Where Blood & Fire Bring Rest" took the conventions of hardcore and heavy metal and turned them upside down. Thunderous, epic, and full of passion, the album was driven by vocals that exorcised singer Daniel Weyandt's demons as if his life depended on the songs. His words reshaped a personal history wrought with tragedy, suicide and death into beautiful musings that connected with their brutal honesty and naked self-observation.
Guitarists Russ Cogdell and Brett Detar, and original drummer Jesse Smith, played the songs with a passion to match Dan Weyandt's soul-wrenching lyrics as the now Greensburg based band (linked to the Zao of old only by West Virginian Smith) devastated stages across the country. Not since Unbroken had jaws dropped like this.
When Scott Mellinger joined Zao (replacing guitarist Detar, who left to focus on The Juliana Theory) it began a song-writing partnership with Weyandt that persists to this day. Smith's West Virginian friend Rob Horner filled the long-vacant bass position before the band made "Liberate Te Ex Inferis (Save Yourself From Hell)," an album that redefined the sound of an era AGAIN and created one of the band's biggest live hits, "Savannah."
Zao's next album, "Self-Titled," was recorded by only Dan, Scott and Jesse and featured a vast amount of experimentation with electronics, dark soundscapes, and melodic interludes. "A Tool To Scream" and the lovelorn letter that is "Five Year Winter" eclipsed all they had done before, while "At Zero" is the kind of devastating album closer that brings to mind Metallica's "Dyer's Eve" or "Damage Inc." After the album's release, Zao toured with a new singer, Corey Darst, who did an admirable job mimicking Dan's voice but never captured the same energy. In December of 2001 Zao broke up onstage, ironically as Dan stood in as a "guest."
Blood & Fire did not bring rest in this case, however, and soon Dan, Scott and Jesse returned to producer Barry Poytner's Arkansas studio and created "Parade Of Chaos," which pushed their musical envelope even further. "The Buzzing" and "Suspend/ Suspension" opened the album with alarming force while "Free The Three" and "How Are The Weak Free" were well-suited for long drives down desolate roads.
The "Burn It Down And Walk Away" tour followed, with Russ Cogdell back in the band, and saw Zao playing to bigger audiences than ever before. Although it was billed as their "farewell" the band learned, as ever, that they simply could not put their passions to rest. Despite the turmoil, the distance between the Greensburg members and Smith, and all of the trials and tribulations of being in a touring band, Zao arose again.
In 2003, Dan, Scott, Russ, Jesse and Rob cut a series of demos for a fledgling label that never got off the ground. Ferret Music signed the band instead, but not before Dan drifted from the band one last time. Society's Finest singer Joshua Ashworth stepped in on tour for a while, but Scott was already on the phone asking Dan back into the band shortly before Smith, long enamored with side-projects, left Zao (taking Horner with him).
Dan, Scott and Russ enlisted two longtime Greensburg friends, Shawn Koschik and Stephen Peck, to fill the vacant bass and drum positions and recorded "The Funeral Of God." An ambitious concept album which envisions a world where God decides to abandon humanity the way that much of mankind has abandoned Him, the album heralded the return of Zao to a new world where heavy music is enjoying a resurgence.
"The Funeral Of God" saw the band get their first airplay on MTV2 and Fuse as well as major accolades in the metal press. Yes, at last, recognition! And finally, like their heroes Johnny Cash and Nick Cave, people started to realize that the kind of art Zao makes is not easily classifiable as Christian or secular... It's just good.
Zao headlined the Ferret Music Tour in 2004, the "Praise The War Machine" tour in 2005, and toured with Dillinger Escape Plan and Every Time I Die. Longtime tour manager Marty Lunn took over the bass position before the band co-headlined the "City Of Champions" tour with The Juliana Theory. And more recently, Jeff Gretz became the band's new drummer before they toured the UK and America with Bleeding Through. After a couple of weeks on the 2005 Warped Tour, a knee-injury sidelined Cogdell and ultimately led to his decision to leave Zao once again. In the fall of 2005, Scott, Dan, Marty and Jeff hit the road with Unearth and later Shadows Fall.
Famed recording engineer Steve Albini invited Zao to make their new album with him at his Chicago studio, and the band (all four of them longtime fans of his recordings) obliged. With an album's worth of songs fine-tuned by Scott and Jeff over several months, with Marty's input apparent as well and Dan's lyrics and vocals stronger than ever, the band laid down what promises to be another landmark work: "The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here."
"Physician Heal Thyself," "American Sheets On The Deathbed," "A Last Time For Everything" and "My Love, My Love We've Come Back From The Dead" are just a handful of the newly energized songs the band will unleash upon the world with this summer's new album, set for release after Zao co-headlines the 2006 Ferret Music Tour.
Get ready. Like the Greek word for which the band was named, Zao is truly "ALIVE."