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Zeal & Ardor - Stranger Fruit

Label: MVKA
Format: Download
Released: 2018
Reviewed By: Jack Mangan
Rating: 10/10

Get ready for the rise of Zeal & Ardor.
The sound is possibly a little too subversive, too revolutionary for wide mainstream acceptance, but goddamn, this artist is worthy. Zeal and Ardor has a lot of what it takes to be the next Ghost.


If you’re not familiar, Z & A is the brilliantly twisted crossover project from the brain of Manuel Gagneux, combining a number of disparate elements, predominantly focusing on a blend of Satanic Slave Spirituals and Death Metal. His masterful 2017 debut, “Devil is Fine,” was a critical and hipster treasure; it even made one of MetalAsylum.net’s Top 10 lists for that year. (So, if we were into this band before it was cool, does that make us hipsters too?)
Where that first album was a rough, unpolished wonder of ProTools experimentation, however, “Stranger Fruit” is confident, assured, and blessed with high-end production and an even more impressive set of songs, which are overbrimming with brilliant ideas and grooves. Gagneux has perfected his formula. The clever, grimdark motif of the first record is still present, but Manuel has added depth, intelligence, and erudite references to the mix, while almost entirely reducing the hereticism. There seems to be a greater lyrical focus now on the impersonal inevitability of death.
The “Intro” track and “Gravedigger’s Chant” start the album in the same vein as “Devil is Fine,” with deliciously Bluesy grooves, set to a percussion of hard labor tools in rhythm. This time it sounds like a shovel hitting dirt. Every song is so distinctly wondrous that proceeding through the tracks is like a journey of amazing discovery. It’s impossible to pick highlight tracks; just acquire “Stranger Fruit” - - preferably legally - - and listen to the whole damn thing. Under duress, I’d go with “Servants,” “Don’t You Dare,” and “We Can’t Be Found,” but ask me tomorrow, and you might get a different answer.
There are fewer nine inch nails-esque instrumental interludes here than the first record, but they are still present in “Hermit” and “Solve.” Both are gorgeous, but this sound is just a small piece of what Zeal and Ardor is really about. The greatest elements at the forefront are Gagneux’s deep, haunting, tortured, soulful voice - - whether chanting, singing, or roaring - - and the powerful, neck-moving rhythms - - whether drawn from Hymnals or from Death Metal.
You didn’t know you needed Zeal and Ardor in your life, but you do. It’s unlikely that you’ll encounter anything else as radically unique, incredible, wonderful, and Heavy as “Stranger Fruit” this year.

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