They've been teasing me like a bitch with this one for a month now, but at last Ohio metalcore superstars The Devil Wears Prada have rolled out that purely horror-themed project they've been talking about. While they're definitely not the first band to devote multiple songs (not to mention a pretty groovy comic book) to the living dead, TDWP is probably the first high-profile group to devote an entire record – albeit a short one – to the concept of a worldwide zombie apocalypse, and even the EP's title leaves little doubt that the guys are going all-in with this theme, straight-faced, locked and loaded. So... do they manage to pull it off? Read on, brothers and sisters in arms, and find out!
Early on, TDWP's main vocalist Mike Hranica revealed that the entire Zombie project was inspired by his first exposure to Max Brooks' cult best-seller The Zombie Survival Guide (a must-have for any well-read horror fan... get a copy if you don't already have one), which got him going on “a real zombie kick.” That led Mike to approach his band-mates about the idea of a zombie-themed song, and soon that idea grew like an Armageddon virus until their very brains were devoured by it... in a metaphorical sense, of course. The result was a five-track horror tale complete with realistic soundbites (ranging from the expected emergency radio broadcasts to gritty action effects and atmospheric touches) and the the band's most relentlessly evil sound to date. The band has declared the sounds of Zombie to be “sinister and bad-ass,” and thankfully they have the musical cojones to back up that bold statement.
Aside from the intentionally cinematic mood, what's immediately obvious on Zombie is the band's progression down a much heavier path from the mainstream metalcore conventions and straight into fat-free hardcore (the band has cited Hatebreed as one of the stylistic inspirations for this EP), a journey they were already plotting with their previous full-length album With Roots Above and Branches Below. This time out, there's less emphasis on clean melodies from guitarist/vocalist Jeremy DePoyster and more aggressive growls from Hranica, with seriously cranked tempos, darker tunings, lightning riffs and more breakdowns per track than they've ever attempted before. The instrumentation is simple and uncluttered, which provides a broader canvas for the imaginative soundscapes that play out across the EP's 22-minute running time.
Given that short span, it's understandable that these songs don't exactly spend their time hanging out in front of the 7-11 feeling sorry for themselves... in fact, the very first sound you hear on this mini-epic is the revving of a chainsaw, which plunges you straight into the action of the opening track Escape. Stacked turbo-chugs and deep-tunneling breakdowns set the stage for Hranica's blend of gravel-grunts and demonic screams, accented ominously with synth string washes and jabbing arpeggios from keyboardist James Baney. DePoyster's melodic vocals, while downplayed in comparison to the band's main body of work, fit in well when synchronized with backing keyboards in the choruses... although the hint of vocal auto-tuning, while slight, renders it a little too squeaky-clean for my taste. Anatomy follows with a grandiose string opening atop the sounds of a building thunderstorm – anticipating the musical storm of blistering thrash riffs that comes next, sometimes synched to waterfalls of piano, other times to a background sample of an alarm system.
The emergency broadcast that begins Outnumbered is pure George A. Romero (right down to the whole “destroy the brain” bit), reasserting the rules of the classic form just enough to sustain the mood. The track itself is the most expansive of the bunch, with an effective blend of clean 'n' mean vocals and some sweeping, gigantic chords delivered by paired guitars and keys. There's also a cool breakdown featuring demonic wails, a haunting bridge piano lead and an explosive ending that quickly collapses with the sound of a spooky slowed-down record. The opening of Revive is sprinkled with high-pitched undead wails before plunging forward with action-movie momentum, and echoes many of the musical themes and instrumental patterns introduced in Escape before fading out with DePoyster's restatement of the chorus and an effective piano coda. The sound of shuffling ghoul armies closing in on a gasping lone survivor leads us, appropriately enough, into closing cut Survivor, which moves from down-tempo riffs into a frightening overdriven bass guitar & marching-snare bridge sequence before climbing up into a massive chorus that fills the sound-space; the album's final seconds fade out chillingly with with the distant giggle of a child.
I came out of Zombie feeling like I'd just gotten started... that's both a testament to the evil energy of these tracks, as well as a possible downside to the experience: I wasn't really ready for it to end so soon. It feels like the first act of a larger production, but it's a great beginning, and hopefully the intensity of the songs will have folks clamoring for more brain-chomping action from TDWP in the near future. Whatta ya think, guys – you up for recording Zombie 2?