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Zeal And Ardor - Devil Is Fine

Zeal And Ardor
Devil Is Fine
by H.P. Buttcraft at 16 August 2016, 8:47 AM

Sometimes, hardcore fans of the genre of Black Metal need to realize that the music is getting stale. I make this realization every time I hear a brand new Black Metal act that may be above average in quality but rarely noteworthy and hardly memorable. Yeah, last year’s TRIBULATION album rocked. But it really isn’t anything I haven’t heard before. At times, I feel like the genre has exhausted itself which has led to artists like DEAFHEAVEN and MYRKUR to step in and stir things up in the small scene of people who love Black Metal but only briefly. ZEAL AND ARDOR, however, introduce an element to Black Metal that is completely fresh and this particular artist has tapped into something undiscovered as of yet in this extreme Metal subgenre.

Although ZEAL AND ARDOR incorporates Black Metal into their songs, I would say that the artist Manuel Gagneux wants ZEAL AND ARDOR to primarily be a Gospel/Spiritual Blues act. That is really what sets ZEAL AND ARDOR apart from any other active Black Metal artist out there right now is the incorporation of Gospel music with something as blasphemous and rigid-sounding as Black Metal. Its not just any Gospel music either; this is music that takes its origins from American spiritual music sung by African slaves hundreds of years ago.

Three songs off of “Devil Is Fine” that I would like to include from this overall discussion of how interesting the music is would be the “Sacrilegium” trilogy of filler-tracks. These songs are much more experimental by design than everything else on this record and have no semblance to any of the Metal elements of this record. These compositions are fascinating in their own right, (the tongue-in-cheek “Sacrilegium I” is a chopped and screwed remix of an Islamic prayer), but hardly fit into the rest of the mix of the album. The same goes for “Children’s Summon”, a weird little shredding masterpiece that mixes baritone Latin chants, melodic death metal riffs, and xylophone together. It also serves as a slight reprisal of “Come On Down” as well. These four tracks could’ve easily found their way on an separate release because they have “B-side” written all over them. There is no semblance of the Spiritual music from tracks like “Come On Down”, “Devil Is Fine”, and my favorite track “In Ashes”.

I still think ZEAL AND ARDOR threw in some ideas into “Devil Is Fine” where the artist created them for another project but found fit them into this record to add variety. A song like the track “What Is A Killer Like You Gonna Do Here?” is a smoky, lounge jazz song with deep, intimidating lyrics. If nothing else, it exposes how ZEAL AND ARDOR is not afraid to be dangerous when it comes down to song writing.

What really stands out the most about this music is that ZEAL AND ARDOR really have done something that has never been attempted before. Of course you can say that this territory where Americana folk music and Black Metal have been infused has been long-tread by the artist PANOPTICON, who I have also reviewed before in the past. But this time, ZEAL AND ARDOR offer up something in that realm that is completely different from the Bluegrass influences on PANOTICON. ZEAL AND ARDOR taps into the ugly and often romanticized era of America’s history of slavery.

And this is where I think it really gets interesting. When you have someone performing music sung by American slaves, there is no way to get around the racial elements of it all. Black Metal, for the most part, has only been a spiritual character in the world of Metal genres. That hasn’t stopped Nationalist Socialist Black Metal bands like ABSURD and NOKTURNAL MORTEM from injecting their bigoted ideas of racial purity into their music and liner notes. There have been things published by particularly notorious Black Metal musicians about people who are different from them that gives Black Metal a bad name and presents its core fans as repugnant individuals who cannot tolerate people of different ethnicities or identities. So I think that whatever ZEAL AND ARDOR are working on accomplishing with this music in the future will inevitably be extremely important to the evolution of Black Metal in the future.

The artist who formed ZEAL AND ARDOR, Manuel Gagneux admitted in an interview with Kim Kelly that he was provided the suggestion of mixing Black Metal and slave spirituals off of the imageboards on 4chan. He was taking suggestions for styles to mix together and although he tried several combinations together, this was one that he really gravitated to. Gagneux himself uses ZEAL AND ARDOR as a way to explore his own cultural identity. I think Manuel explained it best in his interview with Noisey/Vice: “I think there’s a connection between the two; it’s a form of rebellion. Even if slave music isn’t exactly defiant, it’s still like the triumph of the will of the people. I think there are parallels with, say, Christianity being forced upon both the Norwegians and the American slaves, and I kind of wondered what would’ve happened if slaves would’ve rebelled in a similar fashion to BURZUM or DARKTHRONE.

This was one of the most interesting listens I have had so far this year. Definitely keep your eyes on what this band comes up with in the future.

Songwriting: 8
Originiality: 10
Memorability: 10
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
  1. Devil Is Fine
  2. In Ashes
  3. Sacrilegium I
  4. Come On Down
  5. Children’s Summon
  6. Sacrilegium II
  7. Blood In The River
  8. What Is A Killer Like You Gonna Do Here?
  9. Sacrilegium III
Lineup:
Manuel Gagneux – Vocals, All Instruments
Record Label: Independent
     


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