By now, chances are you’ve heard of New York’s Zeal and Ardor and if you’re anything like me you absolutely cannot get enough of second full length Devil Is Fine. It’s an amalgamation of so many different types of music — black metal, spirituals, hip hop, and bluesy folk — that on the surface shouldn’t work but it does and tremendously so. It’s a dark, satanic, and thoroughly engaging album and is a must for anyone looking for something far outside the standard lines of music.
Zeal and Ardor is the creative outlet for Manual Gagneux and after one spin through this album it’s shocking that only one man is responsible. Indeed, one man bands have done some amazing things but here there is so much going on it’s hard to imagine one person tackling it all. Much like the way his 2014 self titled debut came out of left field, so does this one, but from even further out. It’s so off the wall that the first spin was a complete shocker, but once it sank in my reaction was the same as the first time I heard King Dude. With the multitude of repeat plays that followed, the initial shock turned into elation over finding something so completely hypnotizing. Even though these two are totally separate artists they share the same dark and sinister feel.
That old familiar buzz of furious tremolo picking permeates “In Ashes”. Same for “Blood In the River”, but more sparingly to allow room for catchy vocal rhythms and deep delta blues. The savagery in the black metal is surprisingly a fitting backdrop to the chanted spirituals (read more about spirituals here). Between the rattle of chains, slap blues rhythms, and Gagneux’s haunting voice — whether singing or chanting — the combination is addictive to say the least. Later, on “Children’s Summon” we get yet another layer with melodic black metal that rides extremely close to power metal based on its strangely — considering the theme — uplifting tone. Genres and styles fly by in an instant making for a thrilling ride.
The lyrics are just as dark as the music and bring up another fascinating point. Spirituals, originally, came from and embraced a Christian point of view as well as told stories of the atrocities of slavery. The lyrical content here flips the script suggesting exactly the opposite, denouncing Christianity and glorifying Satan through tales of murder, sacrifice, and blood stained fields. So in essence, a different vision of history with the violence and oppression swinging the opposite way. Once enough time is spent with the album to recall the songs from memory it is quite easy to see history through this artist’s interpretation as you sing and chant right along with him. As jarring as the mechanized black metal is, the spirituals and lyrical content are the heaviest part of the album, hands down. And will weigh heavily on any listener that actually invests time with it. All we can ever ask of an artist is to give us something powerful enough to make us feel something and Gagneux has done that in spades here.
Included yet again are the odd ball in-between pieces known here as “Sacriligeum I, II, III” where as last time they were “Intermezzo I, II, III”. The first is a dark hip hop piece, the second sounds like the plinking of a child’s music box, and the third is an ode to 80’s synth wave. No, they don’t technically fit but the combinations heard elsewhere shouldn’t fit together as well as they do either, yet it all strangely works. Every single second of it. I don’t care what your musical persuasion is, this is an absolute cannot miss album and hopefully very soon Zeal and Ardor (Gagneux) will gain more attention than what has currently circulated.
Devil Is Fine is available now in digital format on Bandcamp and will be available in LP format August 15 on Reflections Records. For more information on Zeal and Ardor visit the band’s Facebook page.