By BRYAN YENTZ
Created by Swiss-American musician Manuel Gangeux, ZEAL AND ARDOR is an experimental concoction of gravel-throated caterwauls, raucous guitar grinding and stampeding drums amalgamated with that of harmonious (and eerily portentous) Negro Spirituals. The result is a concept album that’s at once a fist-pumping ode to thunderous metal and a soul-shaking arrangement of haunting harmonies. This isn’t just a record you listen to; you experience. It’s raw, it’s blasphemous—and like the thrall chanting their vexation herein—demands to be heard.
Like many a serious thing ZEAL AND ARDOR began as, of course, as a joke. A regular on the toxic site 4chan,Ganguex would often anonymously inquire (under a separate project deemed “BIRDMASK”) as to what musical genres he should blend. The two responses that stuck out, however, were from two users who opined, “black metal” and (offensively) “nigger music”. Obliging the challenge, Gagnuex created this revelatory album: DEVIL IS FINE.
Ganguex’s mixture of melancholy blues, angst-ridden thrashing and non-vocal interludes create an aural universe that’s been utterly unheard of—until now. Smartly, DEVIL IS FINE retains all of its oppressive themes by eschewing expository lyrics that would otherwise rob the songs of their soul-crushing weight. When Gagneux’s growl comes forth, it’s not to preach, but to tell tales of family, servitude and of course, devils. As with the best artists, the subject matter regarding slavery, the soul and sinister Robert-Johnson-esque dealings with a certain light-bringer are conveyed, but never outright stated. In turn, leaving the listener to glean their own conclusions about just what Manuel’s getting at with all of the beautiful, ear-rending chaos.
As hinted at above, the pacing is one of the more compelling features. This is definitely a trial of music shifts and what begins as one type of album, ends as another. The despondent, yet soulful “Devil is Fine” ushers us into this clandestine world of devil summoning, while “Sacrilegium” 1-3 sections the album into acts via electronic beats, xylophone and sounds equivalent to a snuff box married to that of a Theremin. Gagnuex’s rusty satanic shrieks and violent energy make “Come on Down” the most rigorously energetic piece of nihilism on the disc, while “What is a Killer Like You Gonna Do Here” completely alters the album’s tone by switching to a style that would sound at home on a Nick Cave murder ballad.
The album’s artwork features an image of Robert Smalls; a slave who commandeered a confederate slave ship and in turn, saved himself and other vassals. Over his visage, the sigil of Lucifer. Gagneux has stated that DEVIL IS FINE serves as a what-if scenario which replaces the Christian spirituals with that of the demonic. It’s a riveting reversal that not only begs gripping questions on God, Satan and the victims caught between the two—but also makes for one hell of an album. Listen up, listen well and Come on Down.