I’ve been hearing about this project for the better part of a year now, and really, I just didn’t know what to even make of it. Not having heard it before a couple of weeks ago, I just sort of had to take everyone else’s word for it that this was something that no one had ever done before. Zeal & Ardor is a one man musical experiment that started on 4Chan, of all places, by Manuel Gagneux, and over the past couple of months it has sort of taken the metal underground by storm, although the debut full-length Devil Is Fine is by no means exclusively a metal record.
Without over simplifying, Devil Is Fine takes proto-blues African American spirituals and develops them into really nekro-sounding black metal pieces. It’s actually a pretty ingenious idea thematically, given that both blues legend and black metal are commonly associated with the occult. But even though those two aspects are the most thoroughly explored on this album, there are other, even more strange sounds to be heard over the course of the album’s brisk half-hour runtime. After the earthiness of the first two tracks, you get smacked with a thumping electronica interlude before returning to the folksier end of the spectrum on the next. If anything, the album does a really good job of keeping you guessing where it’s gonna go next.
If I have to take any sort of umbrage with anything, it’s that it’s a bit poorly sequenced in my opinion. “Blood In The River” seems like it should be the climax of the album. It’s most definitely the heaviest track here, the hellfire really shining through its depiction of a satanic slave uprising. But there are still two tracks left after, both of which seem more like interludes than actual songs. Also, in keeping with black metal tradition, the production is pretty damn bad, although that complaint is mostly relegated to the heavier sequences, the mood of the quieter parts actually being enhanced by the lo-fi aesthetic.
It’s a short listen, coming in at under half an hour, but this is honestly one of the most creative releases I’ve heard in quite a while, and when Gagneux nails the concept, it makes for a rousing, unsettling experience. I feel like with a little more of a budget and maybe a full band behind him, he could make something truly amazing. The glimmers are here, and I’m honestly excited to see what comes out of this project next.