Posted on April 09, 2019

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“[Stranger Fruit]” is an uneven record. But by mixing genres and squaring them against ancient issues that remain tragically current, these songs grapple with the past, present, and the possibility of the future by asking two necessary questions: How can art let us understand the problems we’ve overlooked or misunderstood? And how can we begin to fix them?”

- From Pitchfork’s review of Zeal & Ardor’s [Stranger Fruit]

 
Have you ever heard of a band called Deafheaven? Despite all the blast beats and screaming in their songs, they successfully combine black metal, post rock and shoegazing, receiving praise from many critics (including on Pitchfork) and great acclaim from both metal and non-metal fans. Although some conservative metal fans and internet nerds have sarcastically labelled them ‘Hipster Metal’, it is certain that the band presented a new possibility or direction to the stagnant metal scene.
 
 

The reason I just rambled on about another band before introducing Zeal & Ardor is that I think they may be the proper successor to continue and foster Deafheaven’s music style.

Zeal & Ardor started out as a one-man band; namely, Manuel Gagneux, who was born to an African-American mother and Swiss father. He drew so much attention in 2016 with his first album [Devil is Fine] because, if you will allow me a slight exaggeration, his songs were not like any other music that had been heard before.
 

 

Gagneux says that his music began with a question: “What if American slaves had praised Satan, not Jesus?” The band introduces themselves on their official social media as “Blues, Gospel and Soul meet harsher music.” Harsher music refers to the black metal genre, which includes lyrics praising the devil and rough sounds, but these descriptions alone might not tell you what their music really is about. Once you listen to Zeal & Ardor’s songs, Gagneux’s question and the band’s description become intuitive. They have successfully created a combination of soulful vocals with the heavy guitar, blast beat and screaming of black metal.

 

 

However, Zeal & Ardor did not simply make music by combining the sound features of different genres. Gagneux, commenting on the band’s second full-length album [Stranger Fruit], whose title comes from Billie Holiday’s most acclaimed song, said that “It's kind of a continuation of the thoughts of strange fruit, of people hanging, and, by extension, of people being shot or dying. It's not that happy of an idea, all in all. But that's kind of the times we live in.” References to death, resistance, and demonic images can be found throughout the lyrics of the songs on the album.

 

‘You are bound to die alone’ - Built on Ashes

‘Gonna steal their horses / So we all set fire to the woods’ - Servants

‘I come in the breath of the dead’ - Ship on Fire

 

 

In 2017, Zeal & Ardor began performing live gigs as a band after recruiting a guitarist, bassist, drummer, and two backing vocalists. As you can see from their live videos, the two vocalists play a key role in bringing the sense of spirituality to life. Having successfully merged two different genres, they have been participating in festivals of various types, from metal festivals such as Hellfest, Download and Wacken, to those as diverse as Primavera Sound, Reading and Leeds, and the Montreux Jazz Festival. In February 2019, they finally got to go onstage with Deafheaven at the Perth Music & Art Festival in Australia.

 

 

 

Finally, let’s take a look at Zeal & Ardor playing at the Lowlands Festival in Holland last August. (The headliners were Gorillaz, Kendrick Lamar, N.E.R.D.)

 

 

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Interview : Jin Kim
Translation : Songhee Roh
Edited by : Rock 'N Rose
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