Album Review: Zeal & Ardor

Hailing from New York City, self-proclaimed “American Slave and Black Metal” band Zeal & Ardor has released their incredible debut album, Devil Is Fine. The band describes themselves on their online Bandcamp profile as follows: “Imagine this: Django sacrifices a goat on stage while intimidating slave chants roar and screeching guitar riffs burn in the background. Then the rhythmic chain rattling evoking a satanic summoning makes way for the eerily familiar melodies of Norwegian black metal.”

I could not agree more. Devil Is Fine consists of chants that mimic those that slaves would have sung some centuries ago. The band is also able to include incredible synths and spurts of black metal (this has nothing to do with the skin color, but a form of metal that saw tremendous light in Norway during the 1990’s). Although to its core this album is metal, it is much more than that in the end. Zeal & Ardor are able to tell a story of slaves and their hardships during the Atlantic slave trade through erry screaming and chants done in an African-fashion. This album is not just for metalheads as it is able to fuse genres unlike I have heard in a long time.

The album opens with “Children’s Summon,” a fantastic track that sums up the entire album: fast drums, traditional black metal riffs, satanic rituals, keyboard synths, and African chants that are mainly displayed throughout the album.

The following is the title track, of which features no elements of metal, but the sounds of slaves working through labor and collectively singing “the Devil is fine” over and over in an almost hypnotic way. This track really hones the main theme of “American Slave” in Zeal & Ardor’s music.

There are three tracks on this album entitled “Sacrilegium I, II, and III,” all of which are purely electronic tracks that play into the diversity of this band.

Another track that expresses enslavement with black metal is “Blood in the River.” This is one of the more catchier tracks on the album, but it still has hard-hitting moments along with calm, soothing moments between the voices of African enslavement and metal.

The song “In Ashes” sounds to be the most ritualistic, with drowned out voices and constant repetition of indistinguishable words and guitar rhythms. The mixture adds to the dreariness of the album as the song formulates a dark conclusion for this tale.

The last song on the album, “What Is A Killer Like You Going To Do Here,” provides an interesting resolution as it begins with a cornucopia of informal instruments (using kitchen utensils to create sounds), but then transitions to a very passionate–possibly angry–slew of verses that really drive in the sounds that have been played throughout this album.

Zeal & Ardor really do something totally innovative with their debut. More surprisingly, this is a debut! Not many bands or individuals can capture this sort of professionalism and “veteran sound” with a first release like this group did. Zeal & Ardor also create a piece of work that is not just for one audience, but for people who simply like rock ‘n roll, electronica, metal, or even those who do not particularly listen to any of those genres as the music is innovative and engaging. It will be interesting to see if Zeal & Ardor can continue bringing excellence into their music or if they are a one-trick-pony, but, for now, let’s just enjoy the music.

– Colt Pierce

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