Recorded for Geffen Records, it was performed entirely on guitar, although all of the tracks were overdubbed ("Part 5" also contains an acoustic guitar amongst the overdriven electric guitars). Rather than Metheny's standard reportoire of fusion jazz, Zero Tolerance for Silence consists of frantic, overdriven, intricately textured guitar soloing with occasionally distinguishable blues-like melodies. The album caused a division of opinion among listeners, who had not expected the formerly accessible Metheny to venture into the avant-garde. Some, including many of Metheny's most devoted fans, felt that the album was a cataclysmic artistic mistake, and fan forums have from time to time attempted to pressure Metheny into disowning the recording. He has declined to do so, although Geffen quietly allowed it to fall out of print towards the end of the 1990s. In a 2008 interview, Metheny was asked to respond to an internet rumor that the album was conceived as a "'poke in the eye' to Geffen records":
That rumor was started by a journalist who was seriously not listening to the album. All it would have taken was a quick phone call [to me] to find out that that wasn't the case. Besides, I would never do something like that. It isn't the way I operate, which I think has been pretty self-evident over the years. That record speaks for itself in its own musical terms. To me, it is a 2-D view of a world in which I am usually functioning in a more 3-D way. It is entirely flat music, and that was exactly what it was intended to be.