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The Devil has all the best music. From the soul-bargaining blues to the Satan-worshipping black metal, music inspired by the dark master has horrified concerned parents for years, while also being the most creative. Swiss musician Manuel Gagneux has combined blues and black metal to wonderful effect with his project Zeal & Ardor, and on his latest album Stranger Fruit he has made his prayers to Satan loud enough to shake the heavens.
Going from stomping blues to black metal riffing may seem jarring, but Zeal & Ardor make them sound like a natural fit, even lending itself brilliantly to alternative rock’s quiet/loud dynamics. On Stranger Fruit, those dynamics are more extreme thanks to the mixing work of Converge guitarist and production wizard Kurt Ballou. Don’t You Dare brilliantly demonstrates this, building from tinny slide guitar over chirping crickets to roaring guitars, blast beats, and bloodcurdling screams.
… On Zeal & Ardor’s latest album Stranger Fruit, Manuel Gagneux has made his prayers to Satan loud enough to shake the heavens.
Elements of both genres mix together and create interesting sounds. You Ain’t Coming Back has Gagneux and a soulful chorus chant “You’ve got to let go, let go” over tremolo guitar picking, while guitars shriek under the stomp and holler of Servants. Row Row features the most inventive fusion, beginning with handclaps and a playground chant about a lost soul. Guitars and a beat soon join the incantation that grows to a growl of “We are the best of the bastards/ and slave to none”. Those final words summon the demons that arrive in the form of a metal meltdown.
The band also introduces new sounds into the fold. Lead single Gravedigger’s Chant has a Tom Waits piano stomp and stabs of church organ present throughout, even present when distorted guitars wash over the song. Subtle electronics make their way in, but fully electronic interludes The Fool and Solve, while great, don’t fit the album’s flow. The ambient The Hermit and Gregorian chanting Coagula interludes are better fits—the former offering relief from the intense dirges.
Towering above it all is Gagneux’s voice, which morphs across the album. His voice breathes fire and brimstone into his lyrics, from the hollering of “Bring the dead body down” on Gravedigger’s Chant or his demonic growl of “Servants! Join Us!” on Servants. On closing track Built On Ashes he adopts a gospel vocal over shoegaze guitars and an unusually pop melody. The song lifts the spirit, making a lyric like “You are bound to die alone” sound soothing and hopeful.
By the end of Stranger Fruit, all doubts about fusing blues and black metal disappear. Zeal & Ardor completely transcend novelty status, turning this unholy union into soulmates.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Gravedigger’s Chant, Built On Ashes, Row Row
STICK THIS NEXT TO: Tom Waits, Wovenhand, Deafheaven