Death Metal Meets The Blues on Zeal and Ardor's 'Devil is Fine'

Death Metal Meets The Blues on Zeal and Ardor's 'Devil is Fine'

Death Metal Meets The Blues on Zeal and Ardor's 'Devil is Fine'

Zeal and Ardor’s first album is fascinatingly original, with tracks that alternate between creepy and catchy as hell

Zeal and Ardor’s first album is fascinatingly original, with tracks that alternate between creepy and catchy as hell

Text: Joshua Lyon

The term “devil’s music” has long been used to describe both the blues and metal by those who understand neither, but it’s safe to say Zeal and Ardor’s Devil is Fine is the first album to ever combine both the genres and the concept. The result is a brilliant, aural collision of different musical cultures finding common ground within a satanic sanctuary.

Zeal and Ardor consists solely of 27-year-old Manuel Gagneux. “It began with me just asking for feedback on songs on 4chan,” he says over the phone from his home in Switzerland. “I started to play a game where I asked people for genres and I’d try to make a song [that combined them] in as short of an amount of time as possible. No real reason, just lots of coffee and a little bit of alcohol.”

The experiment led to mash-ups like aleatoric music and anti-folk. “Funk doom popped up once,” he says, laughing. “A lot of crazy things.” But there was one anonymous suggestion that he couldn’t get out of his head. “Someone wrote ‘n*gger music’ and another wrote ‘black metal.’ It stuck with me. Not because I was offended, but because I looked at it as kind of an interesting concept.”

Gagneux was already well versed in the latter style, having played in several metal bands over the years. But the hateful recommendation got him thinking about how slaves were forced to convert to Christianity, which led to spirituals—songs in which they declared their faith in God but also sang about the brutality of slavery. (This is an extremely reductive description: learn more here.)

From spirituals, he moved on to studying up on prison songs compiled by Alan Lomax, the famed archivist of American music who traveled the country in the thirties and forties recording songs passed down orally through the generations.

“One thing I find really appealing is the call and response,” Gagneux says of the prison chain gang songs. “It’s infectious, like a group activity going on in your ear that makes you want to be a part of it.” (But hopefully under different circumstances.)

As to why he chose to drape the resulting combination of sounds with lyrics about devil worship, he prefers to leave that explanation open ended. “I like to have a little bit of a riddle. I think it’s more exciting if someone figures something out for his or herself. As soon as I narrow it down, the music kind of loses potential. But I think [listeners will] know the answer.” I’ve got my theories—check out the album below and come up with your own.

Credits: Cover photo by Brigitte Fässler.

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