Album Review: Zeal & Ardor, Devil Is Fine

By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy

If there is one kind of heavy metal genre that I tend to not listen to, that would be black metal. Black metal is an extreme speed metal with rip-roaring vocals, shredding guitar riffs that could tear through the flesh of the player’s fingers, and songs that usually give praise to Satan himself. As a Christian, those messages tend to scare the shit out of me, and personally, I do not need that in my soul. However, I do have great respect for metalheads who enter that field, for it is their right to do so. There is one new group, who has entered black metal scene, and heads are turning by listening to them. Dubbed Zeal & Ardor, it is a new concept concocted by Swiss-American musician Manuel Gagneux, known for his work in the chamber pop project Birdmask. With Zeal & Ardor, Gagneux creates black metal with a twist of Delta blues, soul and gospel, hip-hop beats, and Negro spirituals. The result was its first major debut, Devil Is Fine.

It is a concept record that examines slavery during the pre-Civil War era. Gagneux asked himself what it might sound like, given the premise, if slaves back then were Satan worshippers, and had to convert to Christianity because their masters forced them. The first track, “Devil Is Fine,” is a chant where the slaves are chained and throwing in with the devil. What really fascinated me with Zeal & Ardor was how composition of all these different musical elements and adding black metal to it. Gagneux wrote and performed all the songs on this record. From “In Ashes” to “Children’s Summons,” they bring out the inner darkness that can dwell in anybody. He nails it when he screams into the mic. I really enjoyed “Come On Down” because it starts with a Delta blues melody, then he hits you with a screeching guitar lick.

Devil Is Fine features three musical interludes entitled “Sacrilegium,” and each one has a different musical taste that is disoriented and evil in the sense. The one that frights me the most is “Sacrilegium II” because it has a xylophone pattern that repeats for almost 2½ minutes, like it is a summons to call upon the dark one. Despite the lyrical content, I have to say that Gagneux inscribes enticing tracks that are sinister, like “Blood In The River.” With that song, the lyrics suggest an open rebellion had the slaves used the Devil as a focal point to stage uproar and chaotic rebellion.

This record spells out damnation and revolution at the same time. While I do not believe that the slaves were secretly Satanists, it does make an interesting topic to put on record, a topic that carries with it a provocative enticing to thought. Zeal & Ardor is a new kind of black metal artist, one that is not afraid to go beyond the boundaries of traditional black metal. Ouija board be damned, Gagneux is a master at capturing our evil nature and nurturing it. Like I said before, I am a devout Christian and I do not necessarily agree with the albums message, but from an artistic standpoint, Devil Is Fine is a mighty fine album. While traditional black metal fans might reject it, Zeal & Ardor has come up with a new dark gospel that will send chills up spines. To Zeal & Ardor, I salute you. Horns up!!! 9/10

Zeal & Ardor, Devil Is Fine
01. Devil Is Fine
02. In Ashes
03. Sacrilegium I
04. Come On Down
05. Children’s Summon
06. Sacrilegium II
07. Blood In The River
08. What Is A Killer Like You Gonna Do Here?
09. Sacrliegium III

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