Zeal and Ardor - Devil is FineIt’s about time we got to this. Since its release in April, Devil is Fine has exploded in popularity and earned accolades and interviews across the web, based on, as far as I can tell, little to no promotion from the artist. It has sold over 1000 copies on Bandcamp. But the album’s worth as a success story is just the beginning and even its contents don’t quite tell the whole tale. I undertake not a hint of exaggeration in saying that Devil is Fine is among the most interesting albums out there.

In a way, Devil is Fine is an exploration of very well-tread ground. The second wave of black metal drew heavily from pagan themes, and ever since then, black metal bands the world over have been incorporating the local music of their little piece of the world into their art. You have the typical Scandinavians like Moonsorrow and their homage to Viking times, and more recently bands like Nechochwen and Panopticon have brought American influences into the mix, often with stunning results. Zeal and Ardor continue the mixing of black metal and American music — but this time, it’s different.

You will never hear an introduction as enthralling and unexpected as the first lines of the album. Gagneux opens with a world-weary cry that soars atop clanking chains, an incredible exercise in total inversion. ‘Little one gotta heed my warning,’ he chants, channeling the tragic devotion of a slave song, ‘Devil is fine.’ It’s the first of many blind-sided attacks on everything anyone holds dear, yet instead of being merely inflammatory, it’s transcendent. Gagneux bastardizes the spiritual through Satanism, yet the style remains beautiful, and his uncanny ability to stir simple rhythms and melodies into a powerful and balanced song somehow bridge the gap between the belted chants and bloodcurdling shrieks.

One might rightly call Devil is Fine uneven. Out of nine tracks, three, the numbered “Sacriligeum” interludes, are electronic experiments, and though they’re often as confrontational in their collage of styles as the rest of the album, they never quite reach the same heights. Yet six excellent songs spread between black metal, blues, spiritual, and R&B styles are more than enough to make up for a few portions of filler. “Blood in the River” goes straight for the throat, proclaiming “A good god/is a dark one, a good god/is the one that brings the fire,” and promising destruction of the holy, backing up the chanted hook with a feral black metal rasp. Earlier in the album, “Come on Down” is folksy and subdued at first, but its excursions into scorching guitar and drum machine are among the album’s most traditionally ‘metal’ moments.

Zeal and Ardor 2016

These songs are built not on guitar riffs but vocal lines; chants, melodies, layered shouts and screams course through Zeal and Ardor‘s compositions. They’re the motivation, the impetus that inspires the metal riffs rather than the story shoehorned into them. The layering of vocals on “Devil is Fine” and “Blood in the River” to emulate a work song creates a beautiful effect, and the ad-libbed feel of the lyrics and their often slurred realization lend the warmth of humanity to the whole affair. Gagneux even emulates the sound of old recordings, a low-fi touch that’s one of a million reasons why this music works so well.

This album is a great success story, coming from basically nowhere and exploding in popularity based on just how much people enjoy the music. It’s frustrating then, that after seeing such a meteoric rise through Bandcamp, Zeal and Ardor‘s music has since been pulled from the site by the label he’s now signed to and is only reappearing slowly. Until it resurfaces, Devil is Fine will be a hard-to-track-down gem for those who were late to the hype train, and a treasure for people who already know and love its distinct new addition to the folk-black saga.

Tracks to Check Out: “Devil is Fine,” “Blood in the River,” and “Come on Down”


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  • Berit Dogg

    Good move by the record label, making the music impossible to buy or even hear. Trvly very fucking trve.

    • The Nerd.

      It was originally self-released and then MVKA signed him and I think they are going to re-release in the new year.

      • Kronos

        It’s still really fucking annoying.

        • The Nerd.

          100% agree. Just because I understand why they did it doesn’t make me happy I can’t listen to it.

        • Berit Dogg

          So annoyng! As soon as it reappears I’m going to buy it and NOT listen to it. So there!

        • jolly cooperation

          WHERE. IS. SEPUTUS. REVIEW.

  • Rob W

    Great album. According to iTunes (UK) it’s out again at the beginning of February, although I’m pretty sure the pre-order price is at least £2.00 more than it was when I bought it from iTunes earlier in the year.

  • AndySynn

    Solid EP, disappointing album. Lots of potential, but still very scattered in terms of ideas and execution.

    Lo, I have spoken!

    • Kronos

      I would actually agree. There’s three great songs on here and a lot of stuff that’s basically filler experimentation.

      • Nag Dammit

        Perhaps the re-release will be edited down further?

      • Grymm

        Now that Zeal & Ardor are a fully fleshed-out band, I’m curious as to how the next album’s gonna be.

  • METAL OTTER

    The song in the video sounds like TV on the Radio… what happened to that band?

    • Name’s Dalton

      They’re still around, having released an album as recently as 2014.

  • IBlackened

    This sounds like some new trend in the radio. I’ll pass.

    • Alex Timmer

      Damn, if the look of coverart in your library is a criterium, you have a skewed sense of musical taste!

      • IBlackened

        Did I say that? I only said the cover art is bad, not that I choose albums based on their album covers. It was kind of a joke, you know…

  • Syn

    I love it!

    Even though the album starts off perfectly with Devil Is Fine and it’s a wonderful intro to the album when listened to, I think that for new listeners, who don’t have a clue about the music, Come on Down is a better introduction. I was fortunate enough to hear that song first and for me it’s a perfect summary song of the album.

    I’ll never forget my transition from a raised eyebrow upon the first touch of drums and electric guitar sounds to full blown eyes wide open when it really kicked off.

    It’s one of those things you don’t know how much you need until you get it.

  • Irineu Carvalho

    If you liked Z&A, you should also check the excellent album by Algiers. It is not heavy metal, but it is metal.

    • Luke_22

      Absolutely love that Algiers album. Looking forward to the follow-up hopefully soon. Irony. Utility. Pretext is a gem of a song.

  • Haven’t heard the album, but the embedded track is excellent.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Nice review Kronos,
    Is it an EP or an album though? Who can tell anymore!
    I agree with your suggestion that this is one of the more interesting albums of the year. What I like is that it manages to be as interesting as it is with out being hard to listen too like Jute Gyte.
    It’s very cinematic listening experience. It reminds me of the old film Angel Heart where Bobby DeNiro plays a brilliantly evil Satan.

    One small point that I’ve not noticed anyone commenting on is that “What’s a killer like you gonna do here” borrows very heavily from a Tom Waits song. Something that would normally bug me but ultimately I don’t mind because it’s a throw away kind of number that adds to the broody voodoo atmosphere of the album. Also hearing a Waits influence on a ‘metal’ album is overall a pleasing thing to me.

    One small correction it’s “A good god is a dead one”

  • Urchin

    To be fair the artist has said that the entire reason he did this album was in response to a troll on 4chan, so the fact that its all over the place sort of makes sense. I do hope that if he continues with this project he gets a bit more focus, but its a damn good effort for how it came about.

    • Requiem

      It’s fascinating to me- and perhaps a cliche- how many trolls, intending to tear people down, actually end up building them up to successful careers.

  • R.Daneel Olivaw
  • Dudeguy Jones

    Great concept! Truly. And some twinkling glimmers of future mind blowings.

    In its current state its just a novelty to me though. Id throw maybe one song on a mix and be good with that until he comes out with more to listen to. That said… eager to hear more!

    Blend77/Dudeguy Jones. Out.

  • The Unicorn

    This album is flat out, ridiculously INCREDIBLE.

  • Huck N’ Roll

    This one comes out February 24, it’s super weird and cool.

  • Grymm

    I *just* got turned on to Z & A recently.

    What have I been missing? This is astounding music.