The changing of lead vocalists almost never works for a band. Lucky for us, Zebrahead are all too familiar with shuffling this key cog in the band machine, and sound as re-energized as ever with their third lead vocalist, Adrian Estrella (formerly of Assuming We Survive), who has this beloved band back on the right track. When I last chatted with Adrian and Ali, you could tell that they were sitting on a great collection of music that they have since aptly branded III to mark the third chapter in their storied history. With such a refreshing take on their sound, it’s no wonder why it’s easy to get excited for what the future holds for Zebrahead.
The EP opens with its best song, called “Lay Me To Rest.” When I first heard this single, I described the direction to others as a mix between The Black Parade-era My Chemical Romance filled to the brim with that classic Zebrahead sound that no one does better than them. The song opens with an anthemic statement from their new vocalist, and Estrella commands the song throughout each chorus as he sings, “Lay me to rest / This life is getting old / And I don’t do what I’m told / I’ve lost control, is it all in my head? / Well there’s no one else to blame / And I’m diving into flames / I’m dead weight.” The veteran poise of Ali’s rapping in the verses brings that familiar feeling of the classic Zebrahead sound, yet the backing band sounds as great as they’ve ever been too.
”Long Way Down” follows the epic opener with a new blend of Estrella and Ali’s vocal command as they explain the complexities of mental health and finding the best path forward. As Estrella explains on the pre-chorus of, “And I hate the drugs on my night stand / The ones I shouldn’t be taking / This feels more like a nightmare / You couldn’t wake me up if you tried,” he does a good job of navigating through the struggles most of us have had over these past two years and beyond, and still keeps his head on straight to rock with a newfound purpose.
Zebrahead continues to explore the thematic elements of “starting over” and picking up the pieces of a loss on “Homesick For Hope.” On the second chorus Adrian confesses, “Heaven let me in / The gates are closed / My hands up towards the sky / I’m crying out and letting go / Cause I just can’t take this / I’m under pressure / With no signs of hope / So self destructive / I’m at the end of…/The end of my rope.” The band continues to add new nuances to their sound with some subtle metal influences from Estrella and guitarist Dan Palmer, which makes for an exciting new step in the right direction for these rockers.
Ali’s great pre-chorus lines of “Twice now with the strike of lightening / Hit three times got your jaw grinding / Better grab them dollar signs / Paid to eat you alive,” on “Out of Time” may be a not so subtle jab at their former vocalist who chose to pursue a career as a country singer rather than stick with the band through a difficult period. Either way, Zebrahead are better off with this lineup as Estrella’s vocals take this band onto the next plateau of greatness.
By the time we get to the album closer of “Russian Roulette is for Lovers?” it becomes that much clearer that Zebrahead made the 100% correct decision to continue down this musical path and not hang up their instruments for the very last time. If this EP has any flaws, it’s that it clocks in under 20 minutes and leaves the listener wanting more. By wetting the appetites of their loyal fan-base, it’s only a matter of time before these road warriors are back at the forefront of the discussion as the “Comeback Artist of the Year.”