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There aren’t many artists that showcase the exciting potential of modern contemporary heavy music than Switzerland’s Zeal & Ardor.
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The one-man project of mastermind Manuel Gagneux took the underground by storm with the 2018 sophomore Stranger Fruit, a collection of crushing metal numbers fusing the likes of neo-soul, chain gang songs and chamber pop with metal.
With the usual heavy touring schedule that accompanies a buzz band, the number of those ‘in the know’ has swelled substantially over the past 5-years, with the project’s new self-titled release arriving at a moment that could see Gagneux’s music reach the broader metal world.
“I was aware of it (the hype)–but I tried not to think too much about it because the more I let the audience into my mind the more stressed out I would become,” says Gagneux, speaking to us while snowed into his late-grandmother’s house in the Swiss Alps where, as he puts it, he’s just been “making music … because what else am I gonna do?”
“I just find the creating to be the most fun part–you can come up with anything you want and it can just turn into something!”
I just get up at 9AM, go to whatever is my designated writing room, and leave at midnight.”
It’s a grueling schedule that Gagneux holds himself to, but such is the quality of his work–in particular the new record – that it’s apparent that there can be no shortcuts when creating art that’s world-class.
“I’ve had that schedule for the last 10 years … but 90% of what I write is just …. bad” he laughs.
“It’s all about sifting through the not so great stuff and finding the potential pearls.”
“I know when something shit … I won’t oversea a potential pearl–but I will sometimes mistake something that’s shit for something that’s good.
“I’m constantly listening to other music during that as well–I just love that kind of thing–I’m listening to a lot of noise at the moment … I had a huge PC hyper pop phase not too long ago …I’m all over the place.”
It got to this weird illusive point where what makes this what it is was the atmosphere that we bring–as long as it’s under the umbrella of that Zeal & Ardor vibe we can get away with anything as long as it’s under the right process.
[ Manuel Gagneux ]
All over the place is how some might describe the self-titled Zeal & Ardor release, veering from Swedish death metal, to sunny-day prog with breakbeat and synthwave moments in-between.
However, as Gagneux is quick to point out, “guitars are just a slice of heaviness … there’s really interesting shit happening right now though–Heilung, Backxwash … it’s a great time to be a heavy fan right now.”
He also notes that the ‘heaviness’ of Zeal & Ardor is just one dimension of the project–albeit the central one that he’s chosen to showcase in the music released (so far).
“There are many aspects of this that I could have expanded upon, but I just try to enjoy what I have–I have a very humble lifestyle, but I have a roof–I can’t complain,” he says.
“I didn’t really reflect on what the project has been through–I think it can be unhealthy to be conscious of that, and it can just become a shortcut to becoming a douchebag.”
“It got to this weird illusive point where what makes this what it is was the atmosphere that we bring–as long as it’s under the umbrella of that Zeal & Ardor vibe we can get away with anything as long as it’s under the right process.”
Thematically, Gagneux has also pushed the envelope with songs that explore oppression, religion and the plight of slaves at the mercy of colonial powers in the past.
“There’s a narrative arc to my albums,” he says.
“The first was slavery, the second was breaking out and this one is ‘what do we do with this freedom?’”
“I’m also writing the script of a graphic novel for this alternate history as an extension of those themes in my music … more than ever I’m taking key notes from my music.”
“I’ve only been working on it for a month–it’s very much still in the conceptual phase–I’ve been working on the concept since shortly after Devil Is Fine came out.”
Talking to Gagneux it’s hard not to be drawn in by his incredible work ethic, from writing in the wee-hours to penning books, all whilst maintaining one of the most projects in heavy music today.
I’m really quickly bored with stuff,” he concludes.
“While I record Zeal stuff I’ll be writing pop for unnamed artists, or making synthwave–I like not being forced to do one thing specifically.”