Artist: The Devil Wears Prada
Album: ZII – EP
After the whirlwind that was 2020 (and a good chunk of 2021), up until about…say, March of this year perhaps, it would probably be a safe bet to assume that nobody wanted to hear a concept record about a virus. After first-hand immersion in quarantine, isolation and a seemingly unending blight of sickness and death (caused by, you know, a virus), more stuff about sickness isn’t really what most would consider a good escape from it all. There is, of course, an obvious exception—an exception that most heavy music lovers didn’t know they had until the rumor mill turned truthful: ZII, the sequel to The Devil Wears Prada’s critically acclaimed and fan-adored Zombie EP. To this day, the Zombie EP remains what many consider the band’s strongest work, earning an enormous cult following despite a slight maturation and deviation from their previous works. Over the years that followed, the band would experience a series of hits and misses—and after the relatively lukewarm reception of their latest work, The Act, it would seem a sort of “return to form” is in order—a return to form that fans of the band’s heavier work certainly get on ZII. A twenty-something minute barrage of gnashing riffs and churning, chugging breakdowns interrupted by moments of eerie calm and soaring harmonies both. The ultimate question, however, is this: does ZII live up to the hype forged by its predecessor? Or is it a lackluster attempt at saving face in light of some recent criticisms?
ZII sees The Devil Wears Prada going back to their roots (pun very intended) at several points throughout the release—and this is especially evident instrumentally. “Nightfall,” as well as the scintillating album closer “Contagion”—sees The Devil Wears Prada using robust, metallic riffs against a backdrop of pummeling percussion, storming forward with high-octane segments bound to spark mosh pits at a moment’s notice. Even “Forlorn,” which begins as a more subdued track, ultimately reaches its climax with one of the EP’s heaviest moments, where thick bass synchronizes perfectly with the band’s hefty kick drum and rumbling guitars in a release-defining breakdown. Where ZII has its fair share of heaviness and metallic overtones that have felt long-absent from the band’s instrumental dynamic, it follows in It’s predecessor’s footsteps when it comes to quickly establishing a deep, riveting instrumental dialectic. Where a majority of the EP thrives on gritty, driving heaviness, there are several moments throughout the release that create a sense of somewhat uneasy calm. “Forlorn” establishes this well, with a foreboding chorus that lurches into a riff-driven two-step or a raunchy breakdown, as does “Nora,” which serves as the softer and more ambient cut to the release, excellently mirroring its more introspective lyrical content. In this manner, The Devil Wears Prada use a variety of musical styles and a conversational musical dialectic to traverse a wide spectrum of emotions—from fear and panic on “Nightfall” to loss and despair on “Forlorn” and determination (mixed with a healthy dose of desperation) on “Contagion.”
Even with a well-above-average ability to use raw musicianship as a means to set a specific, cinematic atmosphere, the Zombie series is defined by its lyrical content. Where the initial Zombie EP felt chaotic and riddled with raw, unfiltered emotion, ZII is its more composed counterpart—fitting, if one assumes that as the spreading sickness persists, part of mankind’s adaptation process would be relative composition in the face of the living dead. Throughout the ZII release, The Devil Wears Prada explore this notion and others—the persistent fear and unease on “Nightfall,” losing one’s footing and the things they love on “Forlorn” and exploring the repercussions on one’s conscious regarding killing the living dead on “Nora.” This sort of lyrical maturation is a double edged blade—as it does lend more depth to The Devil Wears Prada’s release, it also slightly detracts from the campy, over-the-top fun that made Zombie EP such a blast. This lyrical maturation also mirrors the band’s vocal development; where The Act and Transit Blues saw The Devil Wears Prada exploring different vocal styles and techniques (to mixed reception), it’s a kind of relief to say that ZII, as one would hope, largely sees the band shift back to their roots with a more clear-cut scream/sing dynamic. While “Nora” and, to a lesser degree, “Forlorn” and “Termination” still see some incorporation of the styles abundant on The Act, the EP’s opening and closing numbers feel almost completely like 2010-era The Devil Wears Prada. This is especially true of “Contagion,” which may as well be a B-Side from With Roots Above and Branches Below in the best way possible, absolutely dominating the listener as what stands to be one of the best The Devil Wears Prada songs in recent history (if not ever), in large part due to its incredible vocal dynamic and lyrical nature.
While I’m usually not one to rank or compare records within a band’s discography, when a release is meant to serve a sequel to another, it’s…almost impossible not to. With that in mind, ZII is a stellar, contemporary companion piece to the Zombie EP. While it isn’t quite as gimmicky or fun, and songs like “Nora” feel out of place amid the nostalgic atmosphere established by “Contagion” or “Nightfall,” the release still holds up well—and it makes sense that despite the band’s aims, we would still see some of the “new” The Devil Wears Prada. Ultimately, the band set out with a monstrous goal—to create something that holds up next to the incredible success of the first Zombie offering—and for the most part, they absolutely crushed it. ZII is diverse—simultaneously nostalgic yet new—and thoroughly immersive, giving the listener a heavy, hectic and ear-gripping sequel that has been in high demand for over a decade.
For Fans Of: August Burns Red, Silverstein, As I Lay Dying
By: Connor Welsh