Zeal & Ardor Review

Boy, the new Zeal & Ardor album is good.

Oh, that's probably bad. I shouldn't start out with the direct opinion, right? It defeats the purpose of you reading the rest of the article. But, then again, I can't be accused of burying the lead. Maybe what I should do is act like I didn't start with any of this. I could edit it out I guess, but... no, that seems like work.

Anyway, Zeal & Ardor is basically a one man show from the brain of American/Swiss genius Manuel Gagneux. He started the band when he went on 4Chan and asked people to post two genres and he'd make a song about it. Since it’s 4Chan, black metal came up and was immediately followed by a racial slur. Rather than quit the endeavour he was on, he decided to take up the challenge and created a track with black metal elements and Southern Black spirituals; and thus we now have Zeal & Ardor. 

Now those that know me are not shocked to learn that both Devil is Fine and Stranger Fruit, the 2017 and 2018 releases respectively, were both high on my albums of the year, and though the Wake of a Nation EP didn't quite hit me like the others, the track "Vigil" is probably the most powerful song of protest that cropped up around the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, and the fact that more people aren't aware of it is really a disservice. Go listen to it right now and then come back to this article. The great thing about reading something is you don't even need to hit pause to do something else.

Welcome back. How was the rabbit hole you went down about baseball cards? Good. Great; let's get back to this.

So here we are in 2022 and he comes out with a new self-titled album, a move that I never understand why bands do once the first record is released. That's your chance! Take advantage of it.

On first listen, I was met with a feeling that the album was more of the same; that essentially the band was staying in place and not really moving too far out of it, but upon further listens, I think I have changed that opinion a bit.

Yes, this is still a combo of metal elements with spirituals, the most "traditional" of which is probably "Death to the Holy," which contains all the elements one would expect from a typical Zeal & Ardor track. But the band has branched out of the black metal realm and is now drawing on other metal elements to add to their sound. In particular there's a lot of different styles that are being drawn from, to some straight thrash guitar passages to occasional groove metal elements that are cropping up on this record, "Götterdämmerung" being the chief example of the latter with its chunky guitar riffs. But, all of these extra elements are fairly short and I think really only stand out upon at least a second listen. So, while the record seems to be a standard record, it's actually doing subtle expansion of its genre reach.

It is not, however, a perfect record. Chiefly it has some filler content that I'm not sure does much except to lengthen the run time. In particular the final two tracks, "J-M-B" and "A-H-I-L," don't really add a whole lot, which is supremely disappointing especially given the strong ender to Stranger Fruit, "Built On Ashes," which wrapped the album pretty nicely. 

In this same vein, I could also lump the self-titled intro track into this discussion, but intro tracks or passages to records are so common at this point it almost seems like required material. I suppose "Emersion" could also fit into this filler since it sounds like a mashup of an Owl City and old Emperor track, but the sheer novelty of writing that sentence automatically gives it a pass.

So, this isn't my favourite Zeal & Ardor record, though I do find I enjoy it the more I listen. The fact that Manuel is still putting in the effort of adding elements and reinventing what the band can do is probably going to make it a record of the year. If you haven't been on the train before now, it's probably time to check out what this madman has gifted us all.