The mix on the debut album of Zeal & Ardor is out of this world.
Corey Taylor, the vocal of Slipknot, mentioned this band as one of the absolute musts for the fans of black metal. In an article posted on Noisey, I found: (…) description of the band as a blend of “African American spirituals, blues, and black metal.”
I know what you’re thinking – this is going to be weird. Black metal is this satanic weird stuff that you’d rather stay away from. And African-American blues added to it… I was skeptic too.
Luckily, I did give it a try.
The debut album begins with the album-titled song “Devil Is Fine”. From the first line “Little one’s gotta heed my warning”, followed by a choir powerful “devil is kind“, I was hooked. I gave my entire attention due to the raspy voice of Manuel Gagneux, the voice of Zeal & Ardor. The gospel singing, which was quickly enriched by an atmospheric piano in the background, was absolutely fabulous. And the chains man, them chains. It felt like a much darker, more aggressive version of “Ain’t No Grave” by Johnny Cash (even if Cash was Christian and very devout). It’s an an ultimately cinematic kind of music.
The short album (25 minutes long only) had much more to offer than the dark, chain-themed blues. For examplr, there’s space for experimental electronics parts too. The entire series of three “Sacrilegium” tracks resonates with some disturbing synth stuff, blending into a kind of peculiar, evil soundsystem. But more than to a satanic ritual, Sacrilegium I belongs to a hard rave in a techno club. The part II could fit an animated feature from the “Corpse Bride” universe. And the III one is just a retrosynth sound out of this world – listen to the audio below.
Still, as mentioned in the beginning of this article, Zeal & Ardor is a black metal group. This is mainly heard in the lyrics – which quite understandably – are pretty distracting to say the least. All this satanic curtain is the band’s aesthetics. I don’t really fall for that, even find it pretty kitschy, but the originality of this music buys me totally. In the end, Ryan Gosling sang about the love of his life buried underground.
At times, Zeal & Ardor explores heavy, screechy guitar sound. It never falls into a wall of sound though, designed for numbness headbanging. The band is as playful with melodic noise as System Of A Down used to be in their prime. Just listen to “Come On Down” and tell me you don’t hear the SOAD feeling there.
Even though it’s only 25 minutes, this short album is an absolutely sweet discovery. I still wouldn’t consider myself a fan of black metal, but if there’s more stuff like Zeal & Ardor, I’m sure as hell to give it a try. And it’s even better once you know that the whole concept of the project was born thanks to 4Chan.