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Zeal & Ardor - Zeal & Ardor review



Reviewer:
7.8

146 users:
7.93
Band: Zeal & Ardor
Album: Zeal & Ardor
Release date: February 2022


01. Zeal & Ardor
02. Run
03. Death To The Holy
04. Emersion
05. Golden Liar
06. Erase
07. Bow
08. Feed The Machine
09. I Caught You
10. Church Burns
11. Götterdämmerung
12. Hold Your Head Low
13. J-M-B
14. A-H-I-L


Devil Is Fine was the blueprint for the Zeal & Ardor sound, and Stranger Fruit was the realization of that sound. Zeal & Ardor is the critical next evolution.

Plenty of people have heard the origin of Zeal & Ardor by now: Manuel Gagneux asked 4chan to suggest two genres of music to combine, and following a thoroughly un-PC response, he started writing mash-ups of black metal and African-American spirituals, a music from an alternate timeline in which slaves in America embraced Satan instead of Jesus. The project’s debut album Devil Is Fine quickly became a sensation, a bitesized, flawed yet exhilarating demonstration of the possibilities of this entirely new sound. Stranger Fruit followed, stretching the concept over a more regular album length; it was similarly successful, but did also see the elements heard on the debut condensed into a frequently-employed song template: spiritual sing-along soft opening, shift into some tremolo/blast beats/screams, and then repeat. It was a template that worked, and there’s plenty of successful bands that have made a career out of releasing songs that all sound the same, but it did feel like Zeal & Ardor would need to find a way to branch out on subsequent records to avoid going down as a gimmick band. Based on Zeal & Ardor, I think it's safe to say they know what that way is.

There are songs on the new album that sound just like what you would expect to hear if you were familiar with their past work; “Death To The Holy” and “Feed The Machine” generally follow the Zeal & Ardor template, albeit with an added industrial tinge (industrial music seems to have generally been an influence on the album, with the electronic self-titled introductory track having similar vibes). However, while many songs incorporate the core tenets of the band, there’s more versatility and diversity in the manner that they are implemented. At one end of the spectrum, there’s the likes of “Golden Liar” and “Bow”, which put metal on the backburner in favour of a pop-influenced soul sound while still maintaining that sinister aura. On the flip side, “Church Burns” has the expected soul/metal back-and-forth, but with a blunter, heavier metal sound in place of blackened riffing.

Beyond those songs, Gagneux flexed out both stylistically and compositionally. First, there’s the songs that still have a connection to black metal, but one of its many offshoots. “Emersion”, after its hip-hop/electronic introduction, leaps into blackgaze/post-rock, taking Zeal & Ardor to previously uncharted tones of euphoria, while “Hold Your Head Low” alternates blues rock with legitimately evocative meloblack riffing. More than that, though, it’s misleading to say that black metal is a central component of Zeal & Ardor anymore; really, it’s just ‘metal’. “Run” takes more from alternative metal in its bass-driven grooves, while “I Caught You” goes all-in on the huge, hooky alt-metal riffs. “Erase” just throws everything into the mix, with alt grooves alongside math-y breakdowns and ‘panic siren’ guitars in a chaotic coalition of sounds, while “Götterdämmerung” rides beefy chugs for most of its duration. The soul/blues elements vary in how they creep into these tracks, whether they appear as a standalone segment at some point or in a more synergistic manner.

So, industrial and alternative metal are the vessels of evolution for Zeal & Ardor, but does it work out well for them? Yep, pretty much. It’s perhaps not as infectious throughout as Stranger Fruit, as I’m not sure there’s another “Built Of Ashes”/”Children’s Summon”-esque standout cut here (although “Hold Your Head Low” is the one that gets closest for me), but Gagneux knows how to write some fun hooks and throwdowns. Furthermore, Zeal & Ardor is the most fluid album of the three released by the project so far in terms of integrating the metal and non-metal sounds; compared with the relative disconnect between the ‘main’ songs and the electronic “Sacrilegium” interludes on Devil Is Fine, Zeal & Ardor flow seamlessly between metal and the various sounds coming from blues, RnB, pop, hip-hop, electronica and soul. Gagneux’s always exhibited the confidence to go wherever he wants, regardless of genre, but it feels like he has the clearest idea of how to bring everything together on this new album.

I’ve moaned before about mid-career self-titled albums, and I’m not sure Zeal & Ardor is going to be career-defining, but it does provide solid evidence that Zeal & Ardor have the vision and ambition to rise beyond any pigeonholing as a novelty act and ultimately endure long-term.


Rating breakdown
Performance: 8
Songwriting: 8
Originality: 9
Production: 8





Written on 13.02.2022 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments

Comments: 14   Visited by: 218 users
13.02.2022 - 23:52
Rating: 9
ScreamingSteelUS
Editor-in-Chief
Looking into this review has caused me to realize that Devil Is Fine really was the project's debut - I remembered another album also called Zeal And Ardor that was released in 2014, but that was apparently a demo and not a full-length (I've now adjusted the classification in our database). That one was pulled from Bandcamp a while back, around the time when Devil Is Fine was getting re-released and also disappeared, if I recall correctly. I have no idea where or whether it is available now, but it was out there - it was more primitive and not as good as Devil Is Fine, which is certainly really where the mesh came together and Zeal & Ardor struck gold, but it was also great in its own way.

I seem to be in the minority (at the very least, the minority among you and Radu) in thinking that Stranger Fruit was not as interesting as Devil Is Fine. I'd agree that the genre combination was smoother and more fleshed-out on Stranger Fruit, but I felt that it ran a bit long and none of the songs grabbed me as much as the stuff on Devil Is Fine, whose rawness and simplicity I found more inviting. Still, I did like Stranger Fruit, so I look forward to giving this one a spin.
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"Earth is small and I hate it" - Lum Invader

I'm the Agent of Steel.
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14.02.2022 - 08:41
Rating: 8
musclassia

Written by ScreamingSteelUS on 13.02.2022 at 23:52

I seem to be in the minority (at the very least, the minority among you and Radu) in thinking that Stranger Fruit was not as interesting as Devil Is Fine. I'd agree that the genre combination was smoother and more fleshed-out on Stranger Fruit, but I felt that it ran a bit long and none of the songs grabbed me as much as the stuff on Devil Is Fine, whose rawness and simplicity I found more inviting. Still, I did like Stranger Fruit, so I look forward to giving this one a spin.


No, I'm very much in your camp - Devil Is Fine has rough edges (What a Killer Like You has a bit of an awkward guitar solo), but the actual songs are so fresh and exciting. I like Stranger Fruit, but it does repeat itself, while Devil Is Fine feels uninhibited, so I do prefer it
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14.02.2022 - 08:52
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Devil Is Fine was so fresh upon release and every song pretty much hit. I like Stranger Fruit a lot, and also this new one, but I feel like listening to the entire thing you kinda start hearing that a lot of things like backing vocals and song structures start feeling a bit samey across songs. Hence why most of the time I just went back and listened to songs individually. So far nothing from this new one struck that much of an interest as songs like "Gravedigger's Chant" or "Built On Ashes" (or "Vigil" from the EP), but that's also because I haven't started the "go back and listen to some of the songs individually" phase yet.
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Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?
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15.02.2022 - 16:30
Rating: 8
Netzach
Planewalker
I like this one better than Stranger Fruit, but not by much. Radu has a point in that it gets somewhat predictable after a while; something I could never blame Devil Is Fine for. That album had a lot riding on the novelty factor, though, something that the band by now cannot rely on. The best songs so far from here are, for me, "Emersion", "Church Burns" and "Götterdämmerung", and they are very different from each other, so I doubt there is a problem with the actual song writing skills. It sounds like the band is trying to cater to a very wide audience and might be lacking some focus in doing that. Still a great album, a clear 8/10 for me.
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15.02.2022 - 20:06
Rating: 9
I'm really into this album, though I only have Wake Of A Nation prior to this for comparison's sake. I like the range in Zeal & Ardor though I can understand the criticism of it being a little unfocused as a result like Netzach mentions above, though like you mention in your review, the fluidity of the album and its integration of non-metal elements make it, to me, more engaging as a result. Minus a few songs that didn't quite click with me, like "Feed The Machine" and the two shorter songs at the end.
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19.02.2022 - 01:14
DahliaRock

One of the reviews out there pinpointed what I felt about the album but couldn't flesh out: the parts that aren't interesting have been dragged out longer than they were welcome, worthy explorations and new territories were cut short abruptly, and there wasn't a concise flow in the album overall. This is probably why the "jumping into a single song rather than the whole" approach is quite valid, as you get reverbs of the song echoing in your brain that lure you in, yet after your hunger is satisfied you don't really feel the need to continue the journey to the end.

I like the album, love the grittier sound, but wish that wholeness was properly achieved so much so that I couldn't stop myself from spinning it on repeat.
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19.02.2022 - 21:46
corrupt
With a lowercase c
I like this one a lot more than Stranger Fruit, but the shortness of these songs is making it hard for me to enjoy them. A 3-minute song doesn't feel like an entire song at all, more like something half-finished and never completed. That gives the whole album an incredibly hectic feel to me. It jumps between different styles and influences in a pace that makes it feel like randomly combined bits to me.
Emersion, for example, feels like it could have been a great intro to a spectacular song. But it is over faster than I can even wrap my head around what's happening. The whole album feels like all build-up and no release. Just sudden endings.
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01.03.2022 - 17:48
Rage10000

Solid Album. I like the short songs. It's nice to not have 7+ minute epics every once in awhile. I also really like the Industrial feel to the album you spoke about. A few tunes on this are going into my regular rotation.
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05.03.2022 - 00:58
Tuonelan

Wondering why the reviewer rating is a 7.8 when all of the individual ratings are above 8? Is that a result of some factor that we cannot see in the breakdown, or is it just something screwy in the data that's throwing off the total?
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Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy
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05.03.2022 - 03:27
Rating: 8
Karlabos
Meat and Potatos
Written by Tuonelan on 05.03.2022 at 00:58

Wondering why the reviewer rating is a 7.8 when all of the individual ratings are above 8? Is that a result of some factor that we cannot see in the breakdown, or is it just something screwy in the data that's throwing off the total?

Well, the reviewer rating is the rating the reviewer attributed to the album; whereas the users' rating is the average rating the users attributed to the album. They shouldn't have anything to do with each other
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Rose is red, violet is blue. Flag is win, Baba is you.
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05.03.2022 - 15:21
Rating: 8
X-Ray Rod
Skandino
Written by RaduP on 14.02.2022 at 08:52
I haven't started the "go back and listen to some of the songs individually" phase yet.

I hav replayed Götterdämmerung an obcene amount of times. Specially because of the gorgeous clean break near the last minute.

I can see Death To The Holy, Golden Liar, Feed The Machine and Church Burns getting there as well but right now Götterdämmerung it's where its' at for me.

Written by Tuonelan on 05.03.2022 at 00:58

Wondering why the reviewer rating is a 7.8 when all of the individual ratings are above 8? Is that a result of some factor that we cannot see in the breakdown, or is it just something screwy in the data that's throwing off the total?

Written by Karlabos on 05.03.2022 at 03:27
Well, the reviewer rating is the rating the reviewer attributed to the album; whereas the users' rating is the average rating the users attributed to the album. They shouldn't have anything to do with each other


Tuonian is talking about the 4 ratings in Songwriting, Originality, Performance and Production being higher than the 7,8 by Matt. He isn't talking about the average user rating.

To answer Tuoneian: There are no shenanigans involved. I tend to do this sometimes with my reviews as well. The four ratings are just me trying to put value on the core aspects of an album from a more objective point of view. A songwriting might b very rich and varied but still turn out to be a very boring song to me so I can give it an 7-8 on songwriting but the overall track could easily be a 4-5. Th other way around is also true with songs that have a very basic songwriting but the overall product ends up charismatic. And some bands can be incredibly unoriginal and still be amazing at what they do, etc...

The overall rating is just the review's general view on the album. The four other ones are just extra, complementary spice so to speak. This is how I imagine musclassia thinks as well.
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Written by BloodTears on 19.08.2011 at 18:29
Like you could kiss my ass
Written by Milena on 20.06.2012 at 10:49
Rod, let me love you.
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05.03.2022 - 15:59
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by X-Ray Rod on 05.03.2022 at 15:21

To answer Tuoneian: There are no shenanigans involved. I tend to do this sometimes with my reviews as well. The four ratings are just me trying to put value on the core aspects of an album from a more objective point of view. A songwriting might b very rich and varied but still turn out to be a very boring song to me so I can give it an 7-8 on songwriting but the overall track could easily be a 4-5. Th other way around is also true with songs that have a very basic songwriting but the overall product ends up charismatic. And some bands can be incredibly unoriginal and still be amazing at what they do, etc...

The overall rating is just the review's general view on the album. The four other ones are just extra, complementary spice so to speak. This is how I imagine musclassia thinks as well.

I'd say that the overall rating is not just the average of those four metrics, but there's other metrics that one might take into account, like memorability, immersion, replay value, aesthetic, that may only have some correlation to those four.
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Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?
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26.03.2022 - 16:17
Rating: 9
Gag reflex

This is getting better with each new listen. Not a big fan of the last two tracks though. Overall, very enjoyable album with immense replay value.
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11.06.2022 - 08:43
Rating: 9
tintinb

Loved stranger fruit more, but love this one as well. Run and death to the holy are my favourites here.
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Leeches everywhere.
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