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While other bands have used the shock value of face painting, satanism / occultism, and purposely revolting stage antics (ex: vomiting, self cutting, pooping into buckets), which have become rather stale, Zeal and Ardor is reminding the dominant culture of the metal world – the west – of an ugly truth of their past that they’d like to hide: the racial oppression, persecution, genocide and enslavement conducted by their ancestors, or, at the very least, people that look similar to them. This new approach is frightening and uncomfortable to the dominant culture of the metal world, making it perfect for the genre.
The way this is accomplished has clearly improved from Zeal and Ardor’s first release to the second. While the first LP, “Devil is Fine,” struggled to merge the black spiritual and black metal elements together – they mostly stood each on their own as songs, or sections of songs – the second, and, at time of writing, most current, LP, “Stranger Fruit,” is able to accomplish this spectacularly. Additionally, as a descendant of the black spiritual, r&b is ever present on both albums, though seeming more embraced and allowed to come into its own on the newer release.
The r&b-infused merging of black spiritual and black metal starts off rather cliche on the first, and title, track of the first album, “Devil is Fine” with chain sound effects, but, by the end of the song, the listener is enveloped in the sadness of proper dsbm. The album continues, vacillating between elements of dsbm, symphonic black metal, industrial, and the black spiritual, exploring all extremes before the album ends. My complaints about this album are that it feels a bit one-dimensional in terms of feeling and mood, and some of the synth sample choices seem odd, considering the context.
On “Stranger Fruit,” Zeal and Ardor combine their elements into a more cohesive sound all their own – embracing the r&b almost fully on “Grave Digger’s Chant” and “You Ain’t Coming Back,” and merging the realms on songs like “Servants, “Don’t You Dare,” and “Ship on Fire.” Like before, the vocals are mostly clean, with vocal harmonies perfectly embodying the spiritual aspect of the music. However, there are actually more harsh vocals here than on the previous album, which are strategically placed and prove very effective in expressing anger and passion, creating a massive contrast with the clean singing. As a bonus, the songs are charged with different moods and emotions, which is a definite improvement. Overall, both releases are very interesting in much more than just novelty.
This band is quite likely the most interesting phenomenon in metal today. The vision of the band – to imagine what their spirituals would be like if the american black people turned to satan instead of jesus, and then combine that with black metal – is very unique and fascinating. Yet, the highly regarded adjudicators of what qualifies as metal – metal archives – have not added them to their listing. In fact, a personal attempt to add the band, received an immediate warning upon entering the band’s name. The warning indicated that the so-called archivists have clearly been rejecting submissions for some time now:
“Warning: a band called “Zeal and Ardor” (United States) has been blacklisted! Your submission will not go through, unless your band comes from a different country; select the country in the drop-down to verify. If you think this is an error, please create a thread in this subforum (read the “rules” thread first). Attempting to circumvent the blacklist is a bannable offense. Thank you.”
A cursory search into the reasons for this has not yielded results aside from comments in the vein of “Zeal and Ardor has nothing to do with black metal,” or “Zeal and Ardor are not metal,” leading to the conclusion that the official reason is that Zeal and Ardor are not considered a metal band, even though they self-identify as experimental black metal. A lot of such self-identification has to do with the personal opinion and attitude of the artist in question. In the current time of a strain of death metal converging with a strain of black metal (the Imperial Triumphant – Ulcerate phenomenon), the bands on either side of the conversion point proclaim whether they’re death or black, which is then used as the method of classifying them.
Here, however, the issue is that Zeal and Ardor have been deemed entirely not metal. It seems the metal archives adjudicators have forgotten about the long existing tradition of taking things from other genres and infusing them with the metal aesthetic. Symphonic, pagan, folk, christian, pirate (remember that hilarity?), progressive, hardcore, punk, rock and roll, industrial, shoegaze, and other elements, have been used in the past and the trend continues. What are Zeal and Ardor, but another band infusing themselves with a non-metal genre, and they’re even using one that has not, to my knowledge, been done before. The claims that this band is not metal are ludicrous. The guitar tone, riff style, vocal delivery, and attitude of the music, clearly demonstrate that Zeal and Ardor are definitely a metal band. With this in mind, it is hard not to think that the blacklisting of this band is racially motivated.
The method in which Zeal and Ardor approach songwriting is reminiscent of the band peste noire, which, while having been proven to be out-and-proud nazis, is listed on metal archives. The similarities are best seen when examining the musical components of the “ballade cuntre lo anemi francor” album, as the lyrical content of nazis should be, and is, irrelevant. The album starts off with female vocals singing some sort of perversion of a christian chant followed by male harsh vocals and a march with black metal elements. Both marching and christianity are rather important cultural aspects of france, where the band is from, – a christian nation that has had three proper revolutions with blood in the streets of paris. The perversions of these influences is a hallmark of black metal, and is executed nicely in this introductory piece, as well as on the rest of the album. The guitar work throughout is quite often reminiscent of the medieval music of france and its surroundings, grounding the pieces here in the country’s culture and identity. Even with these non-metal elements, it is quite clear to the listener that this is definitely black metal specifically, and metal in general, just as it is clear of Zeal and Ardor’s music.
If interested in listening to the mentioned peste noire album, which is quite interesting in terms of musical composition and instrumentation, do so on youtube’s incognito mode, so that the band’s nazi stench does not persist in the algorithms google uses to determine what to recommend.