There are very few bands that can take various elements from a multitude of musical styles and mix them together in a way that creates something new and irresistible. Swiss experimental metal duo Zeal & Ardorcomposed of a leader and a multi-instrumentalist Manuel Gagneux and drummer Marco Von Allmen, are part of. Their self-titled third studio album – released on February 11 – is a testament to their exceptionally original craftsmanship.
The band’s unique sound can best be described as soul-infused blues and black metal – styles not usually associated with each other. Across the 14 tracks, stomping grooves and articulate blast beats coincide with elegant keys and programmed percussion. Searing riffs and heavy chugs sit comfortably with wet melodies and pulsating synths. Versatile vocals switch effortlessly between inflected cleans and brutal growls, with rap-influenced rhymes of justifiable rage and empowerment.
The eerie title track immediately grabs the listener with screaming synths and distorted reverse guitar strumming. Gagneux’s commanding voice over distant chants incites rebellion, with the song acting as a call to arms for the oppressed to take control. The next track ‘Run’ sounds like it doesn’t even belong on the same album as the first, with its low squeals and searing riffs, but earns its place and acts as a musical bridge between the opener and the third track, ‘Death to the Saint’.
The instrumental piece “Emersion” envelops the listener in an atmospheric soundscape of glitchy synths and lush programming. Out of nowhere, it catapults you into a triumphant onslaught of layered guitars and pounding drums into a wall of sound. The song ends with a cheerful melody over delicate keys before leading into the hissing and chosen guitar intro of “Golden Liar”. The cinematic tom fills and swirls crescendo harmonies in a whirlwind of tense vocals and overdriven strums, then abruptly ends before the album’s highlight verse “Erase” hits next.
The demanding lyrics of “Bow” are bolstered by call-and-response gang vocals and beats from the hit movie’s trailer. This battle cry cements itself midway through the track listing as a focal point in the album’s narrative of submission and uplift. The dynamic cut “Feed the Machine” offers an unparalleled sound journey, switching between different grooves and time signatures while juggling bluesy songs and chaotic passages. Next, “I Caught You” is one of the more technical tracks and features some of Gagneux’s best screams on the record.
The unique and most accessible final track, “Church Burns”, cleverly mixes soft guitar melodies and bright piano chords with fat guitar chords and syncopated drum patterns. The lyrics demonstrate meticulous calligraphy down to the harsh rhyme scheme and syllable count, reminiscent of conscious hip hop. The demonic cut “Götterdämmerung” sees Gagneux go biblical, with a combination of German and English lyrics belted from the depths of his soul with ferocious instrumentation and an eerie chorus.
Towards the end of the album, “Hold Your Head Low” begins with a slinky reggaeton vibe characterized by prominent basses and colorful cymbals. It offers glimpses of powerful vocals, smashing percussion and frantic guitars, receding for each verse until the charged finale and gently plucked outro. The last two tracks, “JMB” and “AHIL” respectively, seem short and musically disjointed rather than a fusion of styles. It evokes a prolonged feeling that could otherwise have been avoided by closing with their predecessor.
In all, Zeal & Ardor have compiled a generous helping of relatively short songs for a more punctual message and brighter burn. Although some stand out much more than others, the melodies and grooves of these inventive tracks resonate long after the album has run its course. The band’s self-titled effort explores the angst of a society conditioned with their namesake and inspires change through unity. There’s no doubt you’ll be hearing a lot more about these guys and their undeniable potential.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Zeal & Ardor is out now
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