The Pitch: Swiss-American musician Manuel Gagneux returns with Zeal & Ardor, an experimental project that fuses blues and gospel with black metal to answer the question, "What would satanic spirituals sound like?" Via MVKA.
What I Like: I didn't think it was possible, but Manuel may have outdone himself with Stranger Fruit. Most of us were already blown away by his creative genius on sleeper hit Devil is Fine, but this new outing continues to knock down expectations. If you're new to Zeal & Ardor, the basic concept is an alternative history where, much like the 90's 2nd wave movement in Norway, slaves rebelled against the pushing of Christianity with black metal and Satanism. The resulting sound is incredibly fresh and unique. Rhythmic sounds of clanking chains and soulful singing evoke imagery of tireless labor under a harsh, unforgiving sun... but the lyrics, sudden eruptions of tremolo distortion, and grim howls deliver something even more sinister.
Virtually everything that made this project great to begin with has been expanded upon. The soul elements are more soulful ('You Ain't Coming Back"/"Built On Ashes"), the black metal parts get more time to shine ("Fire Of Motion"), and Manuel continues to experiment with atmospheric soundscapes and noise with interesting results ("The Hermit"/"The Fool"). I was honestly fearful that he would muck it up on a longer release, but concepts have simply been fleshed out to a greater degree without losing anything in the process. I had some qualms with Devil Is Fine in terms of flow and consistency, but these issues have largely been dashed apart this time around. Whether banging my head or being nearly reduced to tears (that outro tho...), this album nails it.
Critiques: Some of the less metal-oriented tracks like "Gravedigger's Chant" come off as a little close to Hozier's "Take Me To Church." The comparison popped into my head one day and now I can't unhear it. In any case, it's not a persistent problem but one worth noting nonetheless. I don't even dislike that song...it's just not what I want in a metal record.
The Verdict: Zeal & Ardor managed to pull it off: they took an unprecidented, critically lauded debut and followed it up with something arguably even more impressive. That's a rare occurance for something so unique. I continue to be in awe of this project and have no reservations saying that Stranger Fruit will most certainly be one of the best albums of the year. If you're on the hunt for something fresh and different, buy this album immediately. I already did. Stream several tracks and watch for the full album Friday HERE.
Flight's Fav's: Fire of Motion, Row Row, You Ain't Coming Back, Built On Ashes
- Review by FlightOfIcarus
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