The big review: Zeal & Ardor – Zeal & Ardor

Swiss-American avant-black metal outfit Zeal & Ardor hit harder than ever on brilliant third album…

The big review: Zeal & Ardor – Zeal & Ardor
Olly Thomas

For a band whose initial mission statement still feels like a dare, Zeal & Ardor have proven remarkably resilient while staying essentially true to the concept of cross-pollinating African-American spiritual music with black metal. Industrial rhythms, gently plucked guitars and synthy soundscapes may haunt these realms, but the blood and fire reverberating through history’s dark corridors remains. Indeed, there are moments on this self-titled third album which find Zeal & Ardor at their heaviest-hitting yet, even as their musical singularity boasts definite crossover appeal.

Lead single Run is an early highlight, the soulful vocals of its verses soon overwhelmed by breakneck riff barrages and a ferocious taunt of, ‘Where’s your fucking God?’ Track titles like Death To The Holy and Church Burns offer knowing nods to black metal tradition, even as the stylistic echoes of slavery-era work songs suggest a deeper understanding of the genuine horrors of the past. Timelines and geography are further stretched on the intense Götterdämmerung, partially sung in German and evoking the terrifying cataclysms of Wagner’s identically-named opera.

It's not all planet-destroying, deity-bothering relentlessness, although even the pretty electronics of Emersion are interrupted by strafing blasts of blackgaze. Songs like Golden Liar trade metallic heaviness for humid atmosphere, with founder Manuel Gagneux’s expressive vocals powerful and melodic. On Bow, his cadences and lyrical focus recall hip-hop as much as blues, making it oddly appropriate that this album’s art so closely resembles a Run The Jewels sleeve.

As the buzzing drones of A-H-I-L bring this ambitious record to a fuzzy close, its creators’ ability to wrest drama and invention from what could have been a quirky musical dead end remains in sharp focus.

Verdict: 4/5

For fans of: Ihsahn, Gojira, Nine Inch Nails

Zeal & Ardor is released on February 11 via MVKA

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