Like all of the bands I’ve written about in this series, Zao came out of the “Christian” music scene of the 1990s and 2000s, a scene spearheaded in many ways by Tooth and Nail Records and Solidstate (the harder branch of Tooth and Nail). However, the bands I’ve discussed have dropped that “Christian” label, pointing out the problematic nature with such a label, specifically when everyone in the band does not hold Christian beliefs. As I stated previously, this is a longer discussion for another post (or series of posts). If interested, though, I’d suggest reading Mark Salomon’s Simplicity, Andrew Beaujon’s Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock, or even Sho Baraka’s He Saw That It Was Good which talks, at points, about “Christian” hip hop within the broader context of Contemporary Christian Music. I have my own personal stories here, but again, that is not the focus. Rather, I want to look at specific bands and songs under that “Christian” label that address social or political issues, and today, I want to look at two songs by the metal band Zao.
Zao “A Well Intentioned Virus” (2016)
I’ve been a fan of Zao for a long time, through most of the band’s iterations. I started listening to them with The Splinter Shards the Birth of Sepaartion (1997), and I’ve continued to this day. My favorite two Zao albums, The Funeral of God (2006) and The Fear is What Keeps Us Here (2006) both address socio-political issues and explore the ways that religion becomes weaponized. While I could focus on some songs from those albums, or in the case of The Funeral of God, the albums as a whole, I want to zero in on two songs from their 2016 release The Well-Intentioned Virus which came out on December 6, 2016, a few weeks after the election.
“A Well Intentioned Virus,” in many ways, reminds me of Lillian Smith’s work and other ideas I have discussed extensively on this site. Daniel Weyandt’s lyrics focus on the need for individual sto create false fears in order for them to feel better about themselves and believe that their position is the right position. As Weyandt stated, the song deals with “[t]he cognitive dissonance that keeps us from seeing how harmful our personal actions can be. Then taking the ideals our actions are based on and imposing them on others, therefore perpetuating a negative situation and birthing a cycle. The human race in general.” This “cognitive dissonance” is the same as the “logic tight compartments” that Smith talks about in Killers of the Dream and elsewhere.
Smith writes that the creation of myths and fears leads to a separation within the psyche:
They did a thorough job of splitting the soul in two. They separated ideals from acts, beliefs from knowledge, and turned their children sometimes into exploiters but more often into moral weaklings who daydream about democracy and human dignity and freedom and integrity, yet cannot find the real desire to bring these dreams into reality; always they keep dreaming and hoping, and fearing, that the next generation will do it.
The “splitting of the soul in two” plays out in “A Well Intentioned Virus” when Weyandt sings about the the ways that individuals use faith and belief as justification for their oppression and actions. To create this separation, an enemy must form within one’s mind, and that act, as Weyandt puts it, reminds us that “We’re born from the fear, the fear of death.” As a result, we must “protect” our way of life, whatever that really means.
Those in power know how to create these fears, and these individuals know that, as Weyandt puts it, the “proven designs crushed weakened minds.” Once the fear forms, then we feel as if we are the ones being prosecuted and looked down upon because the fear seeks to destroy us. Weyandt makes this clear in the second verse when he sings,
Exceptions to the rule and anomalies
Stir up violence with silver spoons
Cries of persecution
From the persecutor’s tongue
The medium agitates the hive
Ever since I can remember, I’ve heard the message that Christians in the United States are under persecution or are in danger of becoming irrelevant. I hear in sermons about the declining numbers in regard to church attendance and participation in activities. I hear that the culture is out to destroy the church. When I hear this, I think about the ways that this narrative creates fear, and it positions culture as the enemy out to destroy the church’s very existence. What this does is create the threat, which stokes the fear, which causes the church to become defensive instead of proactive in the community working for the betterment of all.
Couple this with the ways that may Christians view their position as “true,” then you get into the ways that Christianity has been used to colonize, suppress, and oppress. As Weyandt sings,
Frothing hordes of true believers
You are right, yes you are right
You have been chosen to ruin countless heathen lives
When one wholeheartedly buys into a belief where they view themselves, no matter, as superior to others solely on the basis of their faith, then they become a “frothing horde” who views themselves as the bearers of righteousness and truth, no matter the cost. This was colonization. This was the slave trade. This was Native American removal. This is the continued blind support for Israel’s treatment of Palestine and its people. This is the continued disavowal in some Christian corners of systemic racism. This is the continued perpetration of sexual abuse. This is what Sho Baraka points out. He writes, “As long as we identify evil [and I’d add the constructed fears] by what our opposition believes, our God is subject to our personal politics.”
All of this creates, as Weyandt growls over and over again at the end of the song as the instrumentation sludges along, “A well-intentioned virus posing as a cure.” When the church creates fears and evils, and those fears and evils become the sole discussion of the church, then the church becomes defensive and even focused on attacking. The virus of these creations gets packaged as a cure, a cure that will slowly kill. “A Well Intentioned Virus” highlights this, showing that, as Smith wrote, “The Devil knows that if you want to destroy a man, all you need do is fill him with false hopes and false fears. These will blind him to his true direction and he will inevitably turn away from the future and destroy those close to him.”
Next post I’ll finish this series up by looking at Zao’s “Xenophobe.” Until then, what are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.