Zeal & Ardor are strangers in the metal world.
Septultura delivered Roots which bristled with Brazilian tribal energies, Devildriver recently released their outlaw country homage Outlaws ‘Til the End Vol. 1, and Zeal & Ardor, with 2017’s Devil is Fine and this year’s Strange Fruit, explore a world where the shackles of slaves are part of the music’s rhythmic lifeblood. But upon a single spin of “Gravediggers Chant,” it is clear that, while others have mined history and culture for their material, this is different.
According to Zeal & Ardor’s press, the music “… draws on an alternate history and stems from two thoughts: Christianity was imposed upon American slaves, just as it was imposed in Norway, and black metal in the ’90s grew as a rebellion to monotheism.” For the unsuspecting, the storytelling and amalgam of blues, gospel, and metal are a shock to the system, like a brutal baptism in the frigid Atlantic. The subject matter only intensifies the mood, painting the notes with passion and pain. In the American south, these sounds resonate more fully, particularly in places where the Gullah culture was uprooted and nearly burned from histories pages, a fight that continues in places like St. Helena Island, South Carolina, to this day.
Embracing this music, though, has little to do with geographical location or heritage. This is universal, both in its lyrical content and delivery. “Don’t You Dare” is imbued by cricket chirps, setting a front-porch stage with a bluesy, woozy melody and a violent chorus, frontman Manuel Gagneaux repeating, “Don’t you dare look away boy.” Throw in some crushing blasts, and Zeal & Ardor deliver a level of menace that is rich in feeling and fear, and which is more often reserved for literature rather than metal music. “Row Row” is yet another track that draws listeners in with nursery rhyme feel that becomes completely bastardized by emotion and intense, bombastic sound.
So what differentiates Zeal & Ardor from others of their ilk, those who mine the past to inform the present? It is their ability to truly transport listeners to a place of sturm und drang with themes largely foreign to modern metal. It is heady, emotionally charged, and unforgettable. It is unlike anything the world has ever heard.
Zeal & Ardor‘s albums are available now. Buy Stranger Fruit here!