Zeal & Ardor balances black metal, negro spirituals, and greater songcraft on Stranger Fruit | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Zeal & Ardor balances black metal, negro spirituals, and greater songcraft on Stranger Fruit



“What if American slaves had embraced Satan instead of Jesus?” That’s the question used to describe the style of Zeal & Ardor, an audacious mix of black metal, Negro spirituals, electronic accents, and synth interludes created by Swiss-American singer and multi-instrumentalist Manuel Gagneux. The closest analog might be the soulful, political, gospel-infused postpunk of Algiers, but Zeal & Ardor ratchets up the sonic animosity by an order of magnitude. It’s a genuinely moving amalgamation that channels the darkest chapter of American history while leaving ample opportunity to head-bang. Gagneux wrote and recorded the project’s first LP, 2016’s Devil Is Fine, entirely solo. The album debuted to rave reviews, and for its follow-up, the recent Stranger Fruit (MKVA), Gagneux assembled a full band. Musically, Stranger Fruit is a melange of styles similar to its predecessor, but Gagneux places a greater emphasis on songcraft than before, and the results sound more composed than the somewhat disjointed, mashed-up feel of Devil Is Fine. On lead single “Gravedigger’s Chant,” he strips away nearly all traces of metal to deliver a chilling hymn powered by a simple piano melody, pounding percussion, and a crescendo of layered effects. The rest of the album is considerably heavier and no lighter in subject matter; on closer “Built on Ashes,” he chants, “At the end / When the fields burn / We are bound to die alone.” If you’re looking for one of the most unorthodox live shows of the year, don’t miss Zeal & Ardor tonight at Subterranean, which is part of the band’s first extensive headlining tour.   v

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