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Zeal & Ardor - Zeal & Ardor (Album Review)

Tuesday, 01 March 2022 Written by Will Marshall

Few bands represent the eclectic and experimental side of metal better than Zeal & Ardor. The brainchild of Swiss-American musician Manuel Gagneux, across their first two albums they combined gospel, soul, jazz, electronica and black metal with scintillating results. 

With their self-titled third album, they’ve pushed the envelope further still, refining various elements and mixing them more seamlessly than ever. Where Gagneux’s debut ‘Devil Is Fine’ and its follow up ‘Stranger Fruit’ occasionally sounded disjointed, ‘Zeal & Ardor’ is a much more polished endeavour.

Opening with the title track, they opt for a slow burn during the first couple of minutes, gradually building the tension until Run hits.

Cascading drums foreground Gagneux intoning “flee, coward” before a bridge that demands “Where’s your fucking god / When you’re about to rot?” with blistering screams.

Death To The Holy delves into chanted refrains before being overtaken by screeches and swirling guitars as the push-pull dynamic continus. This is by no means a formulaic album, though, with Emersion and Golden Liar taking different approaches.

The former is all handclaps and serene synths before an eruption into furious black metal and the latter is an acoustic, almost country, ballad. Erase, meanwhile, balances dissonant metal and a softer palette, while Church Burns features call-and-response vocals with churning guitars.

Despite the incongruous nature of some of the transitions between songs and stylistic shifts, it all hangs together, testament to Gagneux’s singular vision of what Zeal & Ardor should sound like and what he wants to say. 

While less outwardly political than 2021’s ‘Wake Of A Nation’ EP, ‘Zeal & Ardor’ is no less urgent. It’s more considered and sounds far more unified than anything they’ve done so far, and is sure to be one of the most experimental, avant-garde and exciting metal releases of the year. 

 

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