Zeal and Ardor
Devil is Fine
(MVKA)

As weird as Devil is Fine (and I’ll get to that), Zeal and Ardor mastermind Manuel Gagneux clearly has an understanding of what the essence of black metal is. Aside from panda face paint, slaughtering goats, and scaring suburban moms, black metal is about rallying against oppression and tyranny. In the 80s, that theme was applied to religious fundamentalism and the rising tide of too-powerful European governments. Ultimately, black metal spoke to the primal urge for true freedom from all that oppresses us and limits our potential.

That is where the fascinating-on-paper-and-on-record Zeal and Ardor comes in. Gagneux combines black metal with black spirituals (and a liberal dose of a harsh electronic undercurrent) to rally against a different and similar enemy: the Southern white man and his high-and-mighty God. By using this paradigm, Zeal and Ardor rails against all that Southern whiteness means, by lashing out and embracing the polar opposites. Gone are the Christian God, and in His place is Satan, and the most notoriously Satanic music around: second wave black metal. Zeal and Ardor’s version of black metal is surprisingly clear and melodic, and a little melodeath-influenced. The (relative) sonic clarity is a nice touch, though the three electronic interludes (the numbered “Sacrilegium” series) feel a little out of place, like Gagneux was playing around and liked the idea of more eccentricity in this musical madness.

Regardless, Devil is Fine is short and very damn sweet, and the electronic oddities are less a misstep and more a curiosity. When Zeal and Ardor’s full potential is unleashed (“In Ashes” and “Children’s Summon” notably), the results are mind-melting. This is truly brilliant in a way that the most challenging art often is, but that’s the rub: Devil is Fine for all its novelty, is actually really easy to get lost in and spin over and over. This is something truly special, more than just a weird mash-up. It works and makes the insanity have a greater purpose. I can’t wait to hear what Zeal and Ardor do next.

Purchase the album here.

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