Black metal is, if anything, unique. It pushes the boundaries of what people can think is possible. Take a band like Zeal and Ardor for instance. What the hell do you even call this music? Seriously. I’ve seen it called American Slave Black Metal, Blackened Blues, Satanic Slave Metal, it all seems to work and yet it all seems to fall short. There are bands that every now and then cause an uproar amongst fans. “Devil is Fine” is that album this year. I’ve heard some wild praise of the album and some pretty huge detractions as well. Everything in balance I suppose. I for one will simply call it avant garde black metal. I think it’s some of the most unique stuff to come through the airwaves in a very long time. Is it genre altering? I don’t think so but we’ll have to see. What it is, though, is catchy. I found myself tapping my foot within a few moments of the first song.
But what Zeal and Ardor exactly and why is everyone talking about “Devil is Fine” like it’s either the second coming? It’s a thought experiment. What would the African slaves have sounded like if, when they were forced over here, they hadn’t adopted the religion of their oppressors but instead, like the Norwegians that founded the modern day concept of black metal, turned to the opposite: Satan.
The hymnal, gospel music reminds me a lot of my childhood, growing up in a very religious family that attended church every Sunday. It has that sort of hypnotic appeal that almost makes you forget the words. But you can’t forget the words, not on an album like this, not when the lyrics are what truly set this album apart. If you’ve listened to Gorgoroth or Marduk you know what Theistic Satanism sounds like. It doesn’t sound like this, this is somewhere beyond that but at the same time closer to real gospel spirituals. It’s bizarre and by all rights it shouldn’t work. To some it doesn’t, to some it’s not metal at all despite the spirit of the album and the actual sound. To me, though, and for the purposes of this review, it is black metal.
While there is little in the way of real “black metal” with Child Summoning being the only really raw sounding track, Zeal and Ardor manage to explore the very edges of what we can consider black metal, it’s more avant garde and post black metal that nearly every band I’ve listened to.
However, lest the discussion get too carried away with what Zeal and Ardor it is, let’s get back to what it sounds like. Does it sound good? The music, all played by one guy and the vocals, again all by the same guy, is technically proficient, well produced, audible and very well produced. At times the music sounds… I’m not sure off? It doesn’t sound bad by any stretch of the imagination but it sounds so different from what you would expect it can be jarring. I loved the album, the atmosphere, the intent, the wide range of vocal styles (my favorite would be that of the title track) and the only detraction I have is the interludes. They are wonderful pieces of music but they don’t fit. They sap the momentum of the music and the alter the mood too much. However, that being said the music is incredible and I recommend this album to everyone.
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