Zeal & Ardor Blend Two Worlds in to One Unique Voice


The genre of metal is an interesting and ever evolving creature, and much like the animal kingdom, you can break down families of sub-genres into sub-genre upon sub-genre but still be able to tell that it has all stemmed from one original species: metal. If I say, “Cupcake Swing Death Grindcore,” there will be at least one band out there in the world that you could probably hear and say, “Aw, dude, that’s totally Cupcake Swing Death Grindcore” and please, for the love of God...someone tell me if they find it. I want that shit. My body is ready. The reason I mention this is because today I stumbled upon a band that has created itself a sub-genre that I have no idea how to label. As a nerd, and as a metal fan, this is terrifying; labels make life easier. But Zeal & Ardor’s debut album entitled, Devil Is Fine, refuses to alleviate my nerd-stress. Somehow—no doubt through magics unexplained—Swiss-American musician, Manuel Gagneux has taken time-tested-mother-approved black metal and fused it with the sound known as, “spirituals”. What are spirituals, you might ask? Well, according to a very credible source—Wikipedia (suck it, college professors) — “African-American spirituals were primarily expressions of religious faith. Some may also have served as socio-political protests veiled as assimilation to white American culture.” Spirituals were an oral tradition among African-Americans that have a bluesy gospel influence and are most notably sung acapella in choral arrangements. Imagine if you will, taking a style meant to uplift the spirits of an oppressed people—helping them carry on through the dark days, sharing their love of God, and declaring their faith in Christianity—and now add to that the murderous, blasphemous cacophony that is Scandinavia's greatest export. Did your mind just explode? Lucifer has a smile on his face at this very moment. Though incredibly different when considering style and directness of the songs, the histories of these two musical branches diverge on two similar themes: oppression and the spread of Christianity. American slaves who had adopted European religious ideals blended with them their own African roots to create something that told their long difficult story and expressed their displeasure sub textually, while still keeping their faith in God strong. Then, much later, angry Scandinavian youths feeling oppressed by a faith that was forced upon their ancestry and had uprooted the traditions of their people, took out their distress by creating music that broke all of the rules— one with a brutal sound and ferocity that purposely invoked the opposition to Christianity. Lyrically, Devil Is Fine borrows from its darker half and takes a vaguely blasphemous stance creating a truly haunting experience for those listening when combined with the addition of spirituals; if you aren’t really paying attention to the lyrics, you might miss the jabs at the Judeo-Christian faith all together. In that aspect, Zeal & Ardor remind me of a band like Ghost B.C. whose music is not what you would expect when considering such source material, giving us moments in which we ask ourselves, “wait, what are they singing about”? There is use of the traditional black metal growl, but it is mostly saved for accentuating the parts when the metal truly kicks in. It shouldn’t work, but it does. The shifting between spirituals-styled vocals, a more somber musicality, and heavy hitting black metal drums and riffs surprisingly flows together seamlessly. A perfect example to start off with is the track Blood in the River, which features the sounds of shuffling in unison and a metallic clanking used to imitate the sound of chains around ankles as the chorus of voices sing: a good god is a dead one a good god is the one Is the one that brings the fire a good god is a dead one a good god is the one Is the one that brings the fire a good lord is a dark one a good lord is the one that brings the fire a good lord is a dark one a good lord is the one that brings the fire Near the end of the first verse, the metal kicks in with a shriek and grinding guitar, accompanying the voices of our singers as they chant: the riverbed will run red with the blood of the saints and the blood of the holy the one that brings the fire Other tracks on the Devil Is Fine that greatly entwine these two styles would include title track itself and “Blood in the River,” which invoke the sounds of a chain gang moving down an old dirt road while singing at the top of their lungs before subtly transitioning into a slightly subdued metal crescendo with a piano outro. The song that drew me specifically to the album, Come On Down, splices the use of blues guitar and a light piano style with the more harsh heavy black metal choruses. Easily the most unsettling and unforgettable song on the album, “In Ashes” lyrically brings to the forefront the history of suffering African-American slaves felt with lyrics like: Burn the young boy, burn him good Wash the crimson stains from the field Zeal & Ardor show that they are capable of even more however; songs such as Sacrilegium I and III, which lean more heavily on an electronic style and Sacrilegium II, which sounds as though someone opened an old music box complete with spinning ballet dancer on a pink velvet turntable, offer perfect examples. The juxtaposition works as perfect interludes to the main meaty tracks of the album. This is going to be far outside of the wheelhouse of many metal music goers. It’s a bit avante garde, very experimental, and will not be for everyone. However, if you are open to the unique experience that Zeal & Ardor’s debut album, Devil Is Fine creates, then you will surely not be disappointed. Emotionally it will hit you like a well-rounded boxer- once to the head, twice to the gut- and will leave you wanting to spread the word and let other music lovers know what they’re missing.

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