If I told you that The Devil Wears Prada, after their latest album “The Act”, would go back to their metalcore roots and create a ‘sequel’ to their 2010 EP “Zombie”, would you believe me? I’m not sure I would, but here we are in 2021, with just that. On May 21, “ZII” was dropped on us like an atomic bomb, and I can’t properly express my excitement over this.
The 6-piece metalcore titans have given us some time to digest their previously mentioned album from 2019, “The Act”. That album continued on the path that seems to be leading away from their metalcore genesis, but still provided us with that vitality immediately identifiable in their sound. Naturally, a lot has happened between “Zombie” and now, and the band’s sonic development is incredibly interesting to observe. With that being said, it’s not often that a band decides to slide into old versions of themselves, and in the case of this band, with matured minds.
Released through Solid State Records, the “ZII” EP is a powerful and focused addition to the zombie opera that the band created back in 2010. There remains an unmistakable sense of chaos that ties the two EP’s together nicely, but “ZII” feels different. There is much less of a sense of high-energy resistance to the undead hoard, which is theatrically displayed in “Zombie”, and more of a sense of dread, desperation and complete exhaustion on the part of the characters in the narrative within “ZII”. The band expressed this notion quite succinctly: ”Before, there were five songs about how to fend off the apocalypse. Now, there are five songs of hopelessness against the hoard.”
Before the listener even begins listening to the track, they should take a few moments to look at the EP cover and ponder over it. A church is a sanctuary, a place of peace, guarded by God. The EP cover exhibits a dilapidated church, gutted and left to rot just like the undead hoard. God’s absence is unbearably felt, and it is definitely no longer a place of protection, let alone worship. This sets the tone for how we enter into the post-apocalyptic world The Devil Wears Prada has materialized for us.
Despite the hopelessness that emanates from “ZII”, the level of aggression doesn’t waiver in the slightest. Mike Hranica shows us that his vocals are just as insane as ever, whilst also employing more recent techniques that are present in previous albums. His vocal range is highly impressive, and it strongly reinforces the constantly refreshing and varied sounds through the EP.
“Nightfall”, the opening track to the EP, begins with his fearless growl which feels like a warning to the survivors in this fictional ravaged world. I have to say that I sorely missed these vocals from him in the last album. The last time we really had a level of aggression from him was in 2013’s album “8:18”, which was the sonic equivalent of a bikie gang member walking into a bar looking for the dude who scratched his Harley Davidson outside.
Continuing through the first track, Hranica’s iconic mid-screams possess an energy that picks you up immediately, throwing you straight back into the world in which the band barely let you crawl out of in 2010. The middle section of this track has a disgustingly heavy sequence: Jeremy DePoyster lures you into a lull of sorts in a precariously soft sequence, his angelic voice inviting the cautious lowering of your guard, but you’re very quickly tested when Hranica slams you with the pummeling phrase “but can you make it ’til dawn?”. The mosh-inducing beatdown here would not be out of place in a Knocked Loose album. Listening to this section, I was immediately reminded of two things, the movie I am Legend, and the video game Dying Light. Both the film and the game revolve around the idea that during the daytime, you’re relatively safe or at least less restricted in your movements around your zone of safety. At night, things are different, with the hoard being possessed by a mindless energy which forces you to stay low, with the hope that they don’t find you. Dying Light has a slogan which perfectly sums up the song as well: “Good night. Good luck.”
“Forlorn” is the EP’s second offering, and really fleshes out the desolation and despair that exists through this new in the zombie story. The attitude towards the use of synths in “ZII” is well displayed in this track. The band seems to focus less on using big synths in the foreground of the mix (well exemplified in the sequence leading up to the breakdown in “Outnumbered” in the “Zombie” EP), and placing more subtle iterations throughout the mix to generate a larger atmosphere. The melancholic interlude in the second track is accompanied by such a synth, floating in the background as an extra layer to accentuate the helplessness that is felt through DePoyster’s vocal melody. I have to say, I did hope to hear the higher and more powerful vocals from DePoyster that are present on earlier releases, but alas they didn’t seem to be utilized in this EP.
It’s important to give credit to Jonathon Gering, the band’s keyboardist as of late, as well as producer. His influence is notable in bringing that ethereal element to the mix without going overboard on sound effects. One of my absolute favorite little tidbits from this EP can be used as my case in point for the synth notion. Still in “Forlorn”, following the first interlude (mentioned just above), we’re thrown back into the heaviness, and the first beat of the sequence includes this high-pitched metallic tick sound effect. It is so unremarkable as an effect by itself, but placed directly on the first beat of the sequence (only once in the track, mind you), it increases and diversifies the listening experience drastically, most likely without people really recognizing it. It deserves commendation.
The following track, “Termination”, touches on new ground for the narrative, providing an eerily relevant expression of concern over trust in the government during a devastating outbreak, as well as the greed in people that can be overpowering as a means to survive. Mason Nagy shows us just how great his recent addition is to the band by delivering an onslaught of slamming bass guitar rhythms. You can hear that deliciously thick bass tone in the beginning of this third track. The breakdown towards the end of this song is so dense and unrelenting, with the only warning being Hranica’s blaring question “can you hear me?”.
“Nora” follows, and secures itself as my favorite track from this EP. Astonishingly technical drum patterns by Giuseppe Capolupo are weaponized to introduce the mini-story of a young orphan surviving on her own in the aftermath of the outbreak. These technical patterns persist throughout the track, and possess a strong resemblance to the iconic track “Bleed” from Meshuggah. Guitarists Jeremy DePoyster and Kyle Sipress punch out some striking patterns further emboldened by Capolupo, and it’s hard not to feel that sense of groovy heaviness as it bleeds into the air around you.
Haunting dormant sections are littered through this track, and they bring forth feelings of desolation, loneliness and absolute desperation on the part of the protagonist. The combination of DePoyster’s lonely and distant melodies, Hranica’s expressive screams, and the lyrics paint an incredibly detailed picture of this orphan’s world. Hranica shows that he can still shriek like he did in their second album “Plagues” (14 years ago!), when he screams “the killers” in the dead middle of the track. I felt a huge smile cross my face when I heard it.
One more thing I noticed in this track is an even less subtle version of that metallic tick I previously mentioned in “Forlorn”. It’s placed ever so gently on top of each bass drum hit in the latter half of Nora, and it really makes the mix pop in way that stands out from the rest of the song. It’s incredibly well integrated, and it just brings in this spicy and technical flavor to the sonic experience.
“Contagion” is the final track on this blisteringly aggressive EP. It distinguishes itself by beginning much more gently than the others, taking the listener back to quieter moments in the “Zombie” EP, like the piano-laden outro for “Revive”. You can’t help but experience a moment of deep sadness, and this is further emphasised by DePoyster’s dramatic vocal melodies. Despite the soft start, and an anthem-like chorus worthy of crowd participation, “Contagion” holds some decimating breakdowns that reach the heaviness one would expect from a melodic deathcore band. The punishing bursts of aggression displayed during the breakdowns immediately reminded me of the album “My Damnation” from Chelsea Grin, especially the title track off of that album.
Lyrically, “Contagion” is the only track where we hear some elements of potential resistance from the protagonists: “Just come with your might, ready to fight down to the wire. Upset the sickness.”.
I really appreciated this; they weaved an ever-so-slight sense of strength and will into the end of this story. The band did exactly this in “Zombie”, but in the opposite way. The last track from that EP, “Survivor”, describes the depressing and isolated living conditions of a survivor. This comes after the multiple tracks before that revolved around resistance, building alliances and protection, gathering weapons and fighting with a life-or-death strength. It’s little things like this, despite the obvious variations in musical composition and conceptualization, that tie the two EP’s together in a deeply organic and meaningful way.
If you look at “ZII” only in relation to “Zombie”, you’re going to be pleased with how they have continued the story. It is a worthy sequel, sharing in the animosity of the apocalyptic theme while still bringing forth it’s own unique personality. In the grand scheme of things, it’s no less brilliant; The Devil Wears Prada are moving forward as a band, with albums that develop new ideas and personalities each time. Metaphorically, I imagine a student who is going through their university career, acquiring more and more levels of education, but decides to take a night off studying to play an old violent video game that they loved, because it’s still fun. That is “ZII” for me.
Released By: Solid State Records
Released On: May 21st, 2021
- Mike Hranica / Vocals/Rhythm Guitar
- Jeremy DePoyster / Vocals/Rhythm Guitar
- Kyle Sipress / Backing Vocals/Lead Guitar
- Mason Nagy / Bass Guitar
- Giuseppe Capalupo / Drums
- Jonathon Gerin / Keyboard/Production
“ZII" is a powerful and focused addition to the zombie opera that The Devil Wears Prada created back in 2010. It shares the animosity of the apocalyptic theme while still bringing forth it’s own unique personality. In the grand scheme of things, it’s no less brilliant, and proves The Devil Wears Prada are moving forward as a band, with albums that develop new ideas and personalities each time.