Zeal & Ardor
Devil Is Fine
Bizarre but incredible Black Metal
Bandcamp is a monster of a tool for up and coming artists of any genre and the metal world is no exception. If you get on Bandcamp and delve into any of the metal tags on there, you will find yourself falling down a rabbit hole of massive proportions. Hours will pass you by before you know it with all the metal out there for you to listen to. It is because of Bandcamp that I have found several new bands that have really had a huge impact on me so far in 2016. None more so than New York's Zeal & Ardor.
I have tried to find as much info about Zeal & Ardor as I could after listening to "Devil Is Fine" and have been stymied somewhat in my delvings. What I do know is that the band is the creation of Manuel Gagneux and is a significant departure from the self-titled release in 2014. "Devil Is Fine" is an album that is just a complete mind bending experience and has so much going on in it that every time you listen to the album, you hear something you missed on previous listens. What sets "Devil Is Fine" apart from other albums in the black metal world is that it doesn't follow the prototypical formula for the genre. Typically discordant guitars, chilling vocals, bombastic drums and atmospheric music is eschewed by Z&A for African-American spiritual songs laced with black metal trappings and some really creepy instrumentals.
Opening track "Devil Is Fine" starts out with this very spirited chant with the sounds of chains being smacked on the ground and drug around before diving in to a monstrous black metal riff that really just brings the song together as a whole. The song itself just sends chills up my spine with the atmosphere it creates with the chanting and the music making a perfectly eerie marriage. The element of the old African American slave songs/chants adds a very sinister and authentic feel to the album. Hearing chants and songs that were sung by people when they were performing whatever work they were required to do just makes you feel like you've been transported back in time and really lends to the emotion of the album. I have never heard anything like them in my life and it is just awe inspiring and dumbfounding to hear the way they are utilized to perfection with the black metal riffs being more of an addition/supplement to said chants/songs.
The track "Come On Down" is hands down my favorite track on the album as it is the perfect blend of the black metal style with these chants. The atmosphere on this song alone just raises the hackles on my arms and neck with this amazingly cold black metal riff and shrieks melded with this incredibly beautiful and catchy chant. There are three instrumental tracks on the album, all entitled Sacrilegium with the corresponding number attached. While these tracks feel like a bit of filler, each track really has some additional atmosphere that it provides.
The next to last track of the album, which also possesses the longest title, has a distinct rockabilly vibe while the vocals are reminiscent of Mike Patton doing spoken word. This track, while feeling somewhat out of place, really does mesh well with the other material on this album. Their are sinister moments throughout the album that feel like you are listening to something eldritch and forgotten. The production on the album is phenomenal and ties everything together in one creepy, incredible package.
I have never heard anything like this in my years of metal. "Devil Is Fine" is definitely not for everyone but what it offers is a fresh perspective on a genre that has been plagued by stagnation and a lack of originality. Zeal & Ardor have definitely carved their own niche with "Devil Is Fine" and I truly hope that Gagneux continues this direction as I am sure that as people discover this album and band their popularity will only continue to grow. If you are looking for something outside the modern convention of what black metal is, I seriously suggest that you go and pick up this album. This is in my Top 3 for Album of the Year right now and it's going to take some serious effort to displace it from there.
A side note that I would like to add, Bandcamp is phenomenal in that any money you spend on an artist's work goes directly to them without going through any middle parties or labels. So if you truly love heavy metal, then do your part whether it be through Bandcamp, your local music store or an online vendor and support these artists who provide us with the soundtracks to our lives and continue to give us music that inspires and drives us each and every day.