REVIEW: ZEAL & ARDOR – “Zeal & Ardor”
I’ve said and stood by innumerable things, innumerable times across my existence so far. One of them was, that although a wide variety of extreme music has been dedicated to Lucifer’s cause, the overlord himself is a bluesman that grooves to a guitar riff playing as daylight creeps back into hiding to give way to the reign of the night. However, in this realm of shadows and darkness, Zeal & Ardor lurks around with its own distinct sound, branding everyone (if you know, you know) with the awareness that the tunes most melodious to the devil, are those of pain and lament written in response to one of humanity’s most atrocious acts, slavery.
Formed in 2013 and breaking into the public eye with their 2016 debut ‘Devil is Fine’, the mood that Zeal & Ardor ushers in is part dread, part groove, part angst, and all parts avant-garde. Earlier songs like “In Ashes” and “Come on Down” exhibit the raw sound that the project aimed for, which set the foundation for the musical conquest that the group laid out for itself. Now, led by frontman and primary songwriter/producer Manuel Gagneux, the band is geared up to release its self-titled album, which will be their third full-length album in its discography. Here, much like the debut, Manuel has taken to writing and performing all instruments and vocals in the record, except the drums.
‘Zeal & Ardor’ continues on the same themes that the previous albums took upon, but delivers their own brand of blues, gospel, spirituals, and metal in a much more vehement manner while maintaining an infectious amount of groove throughout the record. The project has also been observably laissez-faire on the sound palette utilized, employing a much more variety of synthesized sounds and samples in an orchestrated fashion.
The record opens with the title track that sets an incredibly sinister mood and immediately rushes into “Run”, a song that the project has already teased in anticipation of the record’s release. Other similarly contagious tracks, such as “Bow” follow suit, using a brilliant array of synthesized sounds in its orchestration that results in a very dread-colored sonic scape.
However, the record also features a lot more heavyweight tracks, such as “Death to the Holy” and “I Caught You”, both having ear-slamming riffs that are incredibly catchy. “Götterdämmerung” follows the same flow along with featuring lyrics that are in German. Given how these tracks are riffage powerhouses, they earn a 666/100 on the scale of headbang-ability.
Personally, “Feed the Machine” is the song that is the messiah of the project’s sonic-scape for the years to come. Putting together a healthy mixture of chants, call-backs, blues licks, and doped riffage, the song is an exemplary example of an already exemplary fusion that the project treads upon.
Putting it all together, the final adhesion was delivered by Will Putney, who mixed and mastered the record at Graphic Nature Audio. The pristine delivery on the record’s production adds the final blows that it needs, ensuring that the mood that the listener is pushed into is enhanced with a brilliant listening experience.
Overall, Zeal & Ardor’s self-titled release packs a punch and doesn’t cut short on adding a roundhouse kick in there as well, for the kicks. Manuel Gagneux declares that the project has arrived at where he imagined it to be at its inception. Given the explosive, infectious grooves married at the junction of two incredibly rebellious genres, the record delivers on his word. It’s safe to say that the musicianship exhibited in this record is no stranger to the fruit of labor and that it’s been done with utmost zeal, and unfathomable ardor (all puns intended, naturally).