When an anonymous poster on internet cesspool 4chan requested Swiss-American songwriter/soundscaper Manuel Gagneux to compose a “combination of black metal and n***** music,” taking offence at such crudeness would have been understandable. Instead, the trolls’ negative energy is confronted by ‘Devil is Fine’, the provocative and innovative debut album by Gagneux’s solo project, Zeal & Ardor.
Using a wide scope of ideas and inspirations from contemporary and historical musical sources, ‘Devil is Fine’ explores the concept of American slaves rejecting the Christian scripture taught by their owners and finding freedom in Satanism. “He gonna forgive my sins, devil is kind, He promised many things, devil is fine,” Gagneux sings on the opening title track backed by rattling metal chains, reflecting the captive state of slaves and considering the forgiving nature of The Dark Lord compared to the punishing ideals of Christianity.
Zeal & Ardor is a constant melting pot of different dark sounds, combining grim black metal guitar shredding and hypnotic call-and-response chants with menacing electronic drum beats on ‘In Ashes’, before interlude ‘Sacrilegium I’ delves into icy synthesiser melodies backed by hip-hop beats. ‘Come On Down’ even fits melodic death metal breakdowns with the dark sway of Memphis blues.
For all the different ideas roaming on the record, a cinematic grandeur and uncertainty ties these songs together into an unsettling piece of art. Whether Gagneux works with high pitched shrieks and blastbeats or baritone refrains and syncopated backing vocals, he makes a dark soundscape with an organic heaviness behind it.
At nine tracks, ‘Devil is Fine’ leaves you parched for much more from Zeal & Ardor. But what we have is an album to polarise and inspire music fans across the board, provoke conversations about race and religion in America at a much-needed time, and most importantly, silence the trolls.
‘Devil is Fine’ by Zeal and Ardor is released on 24th February on MVKA Music.
Words by Andy Davidson (@AndyrfDavidson)