As I wipe the sweat off of my brow, I was messaging a fellow contributor on here about how I literally can’t explain Zeal & Ardor, you just have to listen to it and experience it for yourself. Take the genres that you know, be it old-school gospel, African-American blues, Motown, and black metal, put it into a mad scientist experiment, throw some philosophical teachings and Nietzsche with a bit of Anton LaVey thrown into the mix, and out comes in a glowing orb is the creative firebrand Manuel Gagneux as Zeal & Ardor with today’s release of “Stranger Fruit”.
It is exceptionally rare that the listener can have images conjured up that coincide with the concepts of the music, whether it be the arrangements that magnify the story or the lyrical content that provide the narration of the song. Yet, Zeal & Ardor accomplishes all of this in order to stir the soul and provide total mindfreaks at the same time, while getting the listener to contemplate. Case in point with “Intro”.
“Intro” is certainly one of the most haunting introductions I have ever heard on an album. Haunting images of the night sky and a full moon emerge onto the scene, with brooding guitar, the sound of the slave/sharecropper working the field feeling hopeless, as the intro goes “I heard the stories that bring you to your knees, ain’t no God gonna help you know”. This right here, lays the foundation for this work of art. It is not just an album, it’s a work of art.
The album transitions into “Gravedigger’s Chant”. In contrast to it’s previous offering entitled “Devil Is Fine” that showcased more black metal roots, Zeal & Ardor showcases his love for blues in its final evolution of the genre and showcases what the gravedigger thinks as the gravedigger buries another person. It leaves the listener asking the following questions: “What becomes of that person”, “Did the deceased have a family”, “Did they live a good life”. With these questions, Zeal & Ardor explores the theory that the gravedigger doesn’t care what you accomplished or what you did because they only know what lies before them. It is an incredibly deep song that brings the stark concept of death and what happens to the body. I love how the song builds and goes into a climatic finish with the guitars and the urgency in Gagneux’s voice while the beginning sounded like an old Negro spiritual.
In contrast to “Devil Is Fine”, “Stranger Fruit” sounds more cohesive, yet still having those chaotic moments that Zeal & Ardor will have trademarked. Case in point, in “Servants”, there is more of this obsession and this love that Zeal & Ardor have for blues and old Motown with the fixation for harmonies, trading off the vocals, while having that other side exposed with their love of metal with absolutely intense and a groovy rhythm section to boot.
The main highlight of this record is “Don’t You Dare”. He somehow made the guitars sound like a mix of the wind howling and like something ominous is brewing, and how it sounds so damn chaotic in motion and sounds tribal and gospel like in the next breath. The way that Gagneux sings with anger “Don’t you dare look away boy/Don’t you dare look away child” has a mix of blues/gospel, and pure anger in the voice. The trade off in the vocals adds that extra groove and that extra straw to stir the drink.
The songs conjure images of the African slave trade, demonology, spirits being exorcised, and written from the perspective of gravediggers and slaves. Their songs tell stories and captivate imaginations and cause people to think about new perspectives that are seldom explored. Zeal & Ardor didn’t just make an album, they made an album that belongs in the Smithsonian with this mindblowing, captivating experience. Madness To Creation rates this album as a total masterpiece, 10 out of 10 stars. Here is the track listing.
- Gravedigger’s Chant
- Don’t You Dare
- Fire Of Motion
- The Hermit
- Row Row
- Ship On Fire
- You Ain’t Coming Back
- The Fool
- We Can’t Be Found
- Stranger Fruit
- Built On Ashes
Zeal & Ardor will be touring North America this fall with Astronoid. Check out tour dates below!
Fans can find Zeal & Ardor at the following locations: