The Devil Wears Prada’s ‘Zombie’ EP made ground-zero on August 23rd, 2010 through Ferret Music. Ever since, it’s been lauded as one of the best releases of their entire 16-year career. A new sequel EP, entitled ‘ZII,’ set to feature “five songs of hopelessness against the hoard [sic]” will be rising from the dead on May 21st, with its first single ‘Termination‘ sounding like the sweet spot between the savageness of ‘Zombie’ and the rawer parts on ‘The Act‘ (2019). Before this second skin-rotting chapter unveils, I look back at one of the most important releases for TDWP.
Prior to the brilliant ‘Dead Throne (2011), I wasn’t a big fan of The Devil Wears Prada. They were a band that I knew of, a band I tried getting into more outside of a few tracks, and a band that my music friends in high school couldn’t shut the hell up about. But outside of their biggest songs in those early years – ‘Danger: Wildman,’ ‘Dogs Can Grow Beards All Over,’ ‘Hey John, What’s Your Name Again,’ etc. – I wasn’t really picking up with what this Ohio-based, keys-laden and (then) Christain metalcore band was putting down. All of that changed in a post-‘Zombie‘ world.
‘Zombie‘ arrived at the right time culturally, as love for zombies was going bananas, with the 2000s seeing a horde of flesh-eating media. Zack Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead, three schlocky Romero flicks, and cult movies like 28 Days Later; influential video games like Resident Evil 4 and Left 4 Dead; zombie literary fiction with both Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, as well as Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009); and the highly successful Walking Dead comic-book series, with AMC’s TV adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s work airing two months after this EP’s release in October. And that’s just the popular stuff off the top of my head. People loved this shit and there was so much money to be made during this zombie-giest.
In what I believe was a first for the band, this was a conceptual release from top to bottom, telling the story of a zombie plague taking over the American mid-west, before going global and dooming mankind. (In 2021, this is relevant for a whole other reason.) No longer screaming and chugging for the big man upstairs, but for the gruesome things going bump in the night, about humanity’s losing war with the dead that they once buried, the band played right into this hopeless yet fun concept. Because having a gimmick is fine, just make sure you own it. It’s why there’s endless love for whenever Ice Nine Kills musically recreate literature or film, like on ‘Every Trick In The Book‘ (2015) or ‘The Silver Scream‘ (2018) respectively; they lean full-tilt into it. TDWP did exactly that here.
‘Zombie‘ represented a seismic shift for TDWP. Both in their trajectory as a band and in their sound overall. So much so that it’s maybe even fair to say that the success and love for this EP created such goodwill that it propelled them forward into the next decade and their huge growth since. It was an EP that laid down the sonic groundwork and songwriting foundation for what would later become ‘Dead Throne,’ one of my favourite TDWP releases. (Like Norma Jean, this band’s best work is from the 2010s.)
‘Zombie‘ is a rare metalcore release that everyone just seems to like. Or at the very least, can tolerate and appreciate. Anecdotally, I’ve never seen anyone ever really bash this EP. Fans of the band hungrily salivated over its brains upon release, and people like myself who didn’t mind a few songs of theirs could clearly see that it was leagues ahead of anything they’d attempted previously. How highly would I rate it? Probably not as high as you might think; the band have far better releases. But it’s still a solid and very cool EP, and I love it insofar as the fact that the successes and the diverse musical ventures that I champion of TDWP (‘Transit Blues‘ and ‘The Act‘) wouldn’t be what they are without this release coming first and leaving the band’s system. There is no ‘Dead Throne,’ no astronaut-themed ‘Space‘ EP even, without ‘Zombie‘ and I pay my dues to it.
Concept and timing aside, this EP is getting a sequel because of the five songs it harbours in its own makeshift settlement. Tracks that fans of the band and the genre loved deeply. As these five blood-soaked compositions saw a darker, heavier and often times much faster TDWP gnash its teeth. Brutal enough for those who preferred other heavier styles of metal whilst also familiar for longtime fans, and conceptual enough that those put off by their previous faith-based metalcore could mosh to it, the long-lasting impact and success of ‘Zombie‘ ain’t hard to ascertain.
Truly, the band had never sounded so fired up, with higher BPMs and slicker fusions of synthesisers and riffs into their sub-dropping breakdown-heavy formula. Something you feel deep in your chest with opener ‘Escape.’ This is the proof-of-concept, about outrunning and outliving the zombies; the first song written to see if this idea would work. ‘Escape‘ begins on a dark rainy night, as dramatic strings and synths slowly build, and as a VERY 2010 reverse swell rises from the grave, the band drop six feet into a short-lived metalcore overture. Then that “Oh my god… they’re everywhere” sound bite is fearfully uttered, and like pulling the pin on a grenade, TDWP shift into full gear with demented harmonics, mean double-kicks, symphonic elements, piano runs, huge singing choruses, and generic but well-executed breakdowns. The groaning sounds of the horde are heard before a painful metalcore trope – the old gun-cocking sample – sets off the song’s main breakdown, synced up with certain musical cues for maximum headshot effect.
It’s good stuff and only continues with ‘Anatomy,’ which begins with the “come and get some” chain-saw revving FX and an intro riff that wouldn’t go amiss on early Hatebreed or Slayer. The interplay between James Baney’s synths and Jeremy DePoyster’s and Chris Rubey’s neck-running riffage isn’t unique for metal of this ilk, but it’s done that well that I don’t even care. It boards up the protected safe house of this song’s core nicely, being detailed and graphic about zombie anatomy. More about the lyrical and visual world-building of the EP’s theme than a narrative, it serves a strong conceptual purpose.
After a quite convincing faux-radio PSA offering info about the dire global situation, as well as advice on how to act when encountering these undead creatures, we get the EP’s high-point, ‘Outnumbered.’ With vocal cries to dig in and “find your post, find your shelter“, it’s the endurance-test of a grim new world that zombie media deals with: not just the initial outbreak but also the aftermath that survivors live with. There’s just something about ‘Outnumbered,’ something about how fucking relentless and heavy it is, about its mix of modern key-mosh and “metalcore heyday” riffing, that it just caves in your chest and skull, like some a walker being curb-stopped by the protagonist. And that brief lo-fi outro is all kinds of creepy.
“Science has become a child’s game, there is no solution to bring away this plague” growls Mike Hranica in the opening lines of the desperate ‘Revive,’ addressing what most zombie stories always love to explore: the search for a cure. You’re hit with a glass-breaking sample (after all, this was produced by Joey Sturgis) and the sounds of pandemonia, people screaming and running from the hordes, making for a straightforward but enjoyable mosh track. The most interesting part of the song, other than those sweet melodic-metal riffs runs and being able to actually distinguish Andy Trick’s bass playing, is this chilling choral hymn that underpins the song’s middle eight. There’s also a touching little piano passage that transposes Jeremy’s lead vocal melody from earlier in the song to close things out before another thematic sample of gunshots and heavy breathing are heard.
Then we have ‘Survivor.’ The layers of percussive beats, chilling ambient parts, dissonance and uneasy tension, wicked bass tones, and Mike’s ice-cold screams all add to the isolating desperation of this survivor living on a farm in Kanas, losing his mind amidst this fictional world falling to the undead. I dig the repeated “I will never live through this nightmare” motif in the finale and the syncopated, shuffling rhythm section between Daniel Williams‘ kick-drum patterns and the lurching bass hits just damn-well slap. (Easily one of the most bass prominent tracks the band had ever written.) All before the eerie atmos of the track’s horror-movie-like closing section crawls off, with haunting laughter heard as the song winds down. An outro that might allow for a nice jumping-off point for this forthcoming sequel EP. And while it’s yet to be determined how authentic of a follow-up or cynical of a cash-grab ‘ZII‘ will be, I do have faith that TDWP will handle this sequel carefully and lovingly enough.