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Zeal & Ardor - Stranger Fruit (Album Review)

Thursday, 14 June 2018 Written by Alec Chillingworth

“Double the length, twice the pleasure,” is a phrase usually reserved for your spam folder, but it’s being used here to describe a Satanic solo project that pits the blues against extreme metal. Yeah, it’s one of those days.

Manuel Gagneux’s musical oddity Zeal & Ardor set a light under the wider metal scene last year with the re-release of his first ‘proper’ album ‘Devil Is Fine’. Clocking in at around 25 minutes, the record briefly whizzed through a fascinating concept: what if slaves turned to Satan, rather than God? The results were a blend of chain gang chanting, Beelzebubian incantations, black metal, Gothenburg death metal and electronica.

As obscenely entertaining as it was, such a short duration meant these ideas couldn’t be explored as fully as the concept demanded. ‘Stranger Fruit’ puts that right. Here there’s more space to let ideas breathe, rather than just cramming an LP’s-worth into what was essentially an EP.

The rootsy side is given more legitimacy, with tracks like Don’t You Dare and Row Row utilising bluegrass twangs, hand-claps and Gagneux’s indescribably catchy hooks to reel you in.

When black metal rumbles through the chorus, it’s even more direct. The fully fleshed-out blues lend a greater contrast to the savage blastbeats – this time handled by Marco von Allmen – and Gagneux’s high screams this time out.

There are dreamy, electronic segues that will put off people with short attention spans, but ‘Stranger Fruit’ isn’t about an instant hit. Piano-led tracks like Gravedigger’s Chant and the gorgeous, heartfelt Built On Ashes have enough emotional pull and, more prominently, mainstream potential to suck in a casual listener, but Zeal & Ardor is a complex beast. Gagneux uses one sound as his base, often straying but always returning and sounding like the only possible person who could execute this. That’s why you can have feral black metal tracks like Waste and Fire of Motion sitting alongside the uber-cool, slinky sections of You Ain’t Coming Back.

Gagneux’s clean vocals have upgraded since ‘Devil Is Fine’, too, moving from imitations of field recordings to genuine, soulful melodies you could imagine being pumped out of a radio. Mixed by Kurt Ballou and produced by Zebo Adam with extra tinkering from Gagneux, ‘Stranger Fruit’ is so much more cohesive than its predecessor. There’s an overbearing, choking industrial sheet layered over the metal parts: the title track, Servants and We Can’t Be Found’s final minute-or-so all benefit from such a grim, bleak finish.

And contrary to the success of the Walmart yodelling kid, novelty is fleeting. It wears off. Zeal & Ardor is more than a kernel of an idea. It’s fully formed now, and Gagneux has shown that yes, you can mix all these styles together and not sound like complete shit.  Devil is fine, Satan still has all the bangers, and Zeal & Ardor’s here to stay.

Zeal and Ardor Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri November 30 2018 - BRISTOL Fleece
Sat December 01 2018 - BRIGHTON Haunt
Sun December 02 2018 - LONDON Electric Ballroom
Tue December 04 2018 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute2 Birmingham
Wed December 05 2018 - MANCHESTER Manchester Gorilla
Thu December 06 2018 - LEEDS Church
Fri December 07 2018 - GLASGOW King Tuts Wah Wah Hut

Click here to compare & buy Zeal And Ardor Tickets at Stereoboard.com.





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