For Fans Of
In my recent retrospective piece about the impact and cultural context of The Devil Wears Prada’s ‘Zombie‘ EP (2010), I concluded it by saying that with only ‘Termination‘ released at the time, it was yet to be seen just how authentic or cynical of a sequel ‘ZII‘ would turn out to be. I’m quite happy to report that this is actually a staunch, heavy-as-fuck follow-up to one of the band’s most beloved releases, all in keeping with the theme, sound and tone of that preceding EP. Oh ye of little faith.
Back in 2010, ‘Zombie‘ arrived during the fervour peak of the public’s love for zombie media, ushering in a new era of The Devil Wears Prada’s sound with its faster, heavier, more vicious style. ‘ZII,’ 11 years later, comes after a decade of interest in zombie stories dwindling and a world-altering 2020 due to the global pandemic, also succeeding one of the most experimental and adventurous periods of this band’s career. In fact, one reading you could make of this new EP’s zombie plague concept is that its theme of isolation, desperation and hopelessness eventually forming into resilience, community, and action-taking is, unintentional or not, a metaphorical reflection of our world grappling and coming to deal with Covid-19.
Real-world allegories aside, the biggest question for most listeners will be “is it a worthy sequel?” While I can only speak for myself, I’d answer that with a very big YES. Amongst these five songs, ‘ZII‘ never once stinks of a cash-grab and it marks a strong return to the late 2000s, breakdown-obsessed metalcore sound that older fans and purveyors of the Myspace heavy music era will adore. As for whether it matches or even bests that first EP, I’d argue that it’s certainly as solid as ‘Zombie‘ with the caveat that I personally don’t consider that EP anywhere close to their finest release. ‘Zombie‘ was a neat EP with a topical concept gimmick and some very cool tracks – I always enjoyed ‘Outnumbered‘ and ‘Survivor‘ – and helped push the band forward into their best years. I like what it did for them, but I don’t necessarily love that EP itself. I always preferred where they went afterwards; the hyper-aggressive ‘Dead Throne‘ LP (2011), the melodic sci-fi concepts of the ‘Space‘ EP (2015), the polished sweet spot of the excellent ‘Transit Blues‘ (2016) and the sublime world within ‘The Act‘ (2019).
Though make no mistake, ‘ZII‘ hits with brain-hankering fury. ‘ZII‘ is the heaviest shit they’ve released since the original ‘Zombie.’ Just think of an EP full of songs like ‘The Thread‘; that’s this thing in a rotting nutshell. Throw in sound bites representing the zombie hordes (‘Nightfall‘) and some dramatic, mood-setting synthesisers (‘Nora.’) Technical musicianship in composition and performances abound, as do to-the-point breakdown passages; sub-drops, chugging guitars, and downright sickening mosh parts litter the corpse field of ‘ZII.’ Yet so too do their knack for great choruses and the stellar dual-vocal duality between Mike Hranica and guitarist Jeremy DePoyster. Both of whom aren’t forcing their respective vocal techniques to rehash their younger 2010 selves, but to roar proudly with how their voices have since developed. For instance, ‘Forlorn‘ pushes and pulls between Mick Gordon-esque djent and synth violence – a rare time where a metalcore band has aped DOOM but in a robust manner – and gloomier, piano-laden verses with harmonised vocals from Mike and Jeremy. In its brilliant finale, the pair’s vocals sync and overlap for the song’s chilling and foreboding “it’s hopeless now, this tragedy” refrain.
After having radio success with ‘Chemical‘, TDWP have constructed their heaviest release. And I love that dynamic between releases. As it’s highly unlikely that the next album will sound anything like ‘ZII,’ and I sincerely hope that’s the case: proving once again that this band are actually so multi-faceted. ‘ZII‘ is informed by all previous eras of TDWP. Some definitely more so than others, but you can see this blend in the straight-forward heaviness of their earlier works, the emphasis and importance of the bass being heard post-2010, and the more recent storytelling nature of Mike’s lyricism. Eerier hints of darker instrumental and vocal melodies cut through the clouds of ‘ZII,’ ensuring the EP makes its last stand between their breakdown-happy past and the interesting territories they’ve since plotted through.
‘Termination‘ is a great example of this. As the engrossing atmosphere of this powerful song gracefully moves around the band’s surgical metalcore warfare of dire vocals, jumpy rhythms, and erratic riffs. Production-guider Jonathan Gering really adds to these songs’ deeper mood, with his synths, noisy glitches and samples providing numerous subtle details. TDWP might be playing at their heaviest in years, but they haven’t forgotten their sonic delicacy and compositional intricacy.
Starting with a solemn piano melody, Jeremy softly laments “How can we keep our heads above?” on ‘Contagion‘, a section that acts as a firm reminder that he’s one hell of a good singer, before everything shifts gears into pummeling riffs and syncopated rhythms. The bouncy riffs and double-kicks after the first chorus are groove-central, and the wicked guitar harmonies that move in the choruses are a serious highlight. ‘Contagion‘ is like the Hail Mary moment of any zombie flick, where survivors band together to make their final stand. The track’s ending reflects this; building up tension through Jeremy’s vocals and synth melodies, before everything else – Mike’s raw screams, those sweet harmonic riffs, and one last bloodletting, china-cracking breakdown – drag the piece down to its final resting place.
‘ZII‘ runs a gamut of emotions and ideas that other zombie media has explored. Existential dread of awaiting death, being stuck and cramped in boarded-up physical locales surrounded by reanimated corpses, how new groups and societies form within this post-apocalyptic world, and unrelenting deception and fear. ‘Nightfall‘ is perhaps the most basic of this premise. (Easily the weakest track of the five; I tended to skip on repeat listens.) If this opener was any kind of movie reference, it’d be Newt from Aliens: “they mostly come at night… mostly.” As it’s about the waking nightmare of this zombified world, the song straight up asking if you can even make it to dawn, as the dead only come at night.
‘Forlorn‘ addresses loneliness and hopelessness as the “biblical devastation” and “gravity of the virus” grips the world in panic and desperation. Abandon all hope ye who enter here and all that good shit. As a species, we humans love to control. Part of horror as a medium, and a core part of invasion/infection media is that very lust for control being ripped away from us. This is precisely the feeling that ‘Forlorn‘ carries. After that, ‘Termination‘ is this interesting grey area; how the living cope and go about their daily lives. ‘Zombie‘ was about fighting off the hordes, now ‘ZII‘ is about simply living with them. About coming to terms with having to survive alongside the dead, life trying to return to normal, new economies born within this apocalypse, and threats coming from secretive heads of state and the undead.
‘Nora‘ tells the story of a lone traveller making her way through a desolate world. Constantly on the run from dead and human threats alike, she’s practically fighting for every step taken. It’s the lone-survivor story archetype that we’ve seen before in The Walking Dead series, told through the medium of a feral, riff-heavy and decent metalcore track that knows just when to pull back. Lastly, ‘Contagion‘ is a call-to-arms for humanity to “upset the sickness” and take their lives back. It’s played like the last-ditch effort for humanity, their moment to fight for their right to exist in a terrifying new world.
If you loved what The Devil Wears Prada were pumping out circa ‘Zombie’ and ‘Dead Throne,’ then do not sleep like the dead on this solid new EP. Likewise, if you’re more a fan of what came afterwards in the 2010s, like me, don’t avoid these violent five-tracks like the zombie plague. ‘ZII’ is almost like the purest Devil Wears Prada listening experience; built with something every fan can appreciate. While it definitely leans more on their older and heavier past, it’s still a well-measured experience blending where they once were and where they’ve gone since. ‘ZII’ and the last five years of this group’s existence have proved that TDWP are worthy of a legend status within metalcore. (People aren’t ready for that conversation.) Yet they’re so much more than a metalcore band. What comes after ‘ZII’ will likely sound very different, but right now, they’ve seen fit to return to an old zombie narrative and sever some heads to the brutal, moshing metalcore of yesteryear. Watch out; this one fucking bites.
‘ZII’ is out Friday, May 21st: