Album Review – ZEAL & ARDOR – Devil is Fine



Oh my word, where do I start with this one? Ok, the most important bit first: this is incredible. It’s not like anything I’ve ever heard before. I’m willing to bet you’ll find the same thing.

Ostensibly, this is a Death Metal album. (Although it’s just as much not that at all – bear with me and I’ll try to explain in a minute). And Death Metal is not my usual genre of choice. Sometimes though, I’ve found, something comes along that is so good it completely washes the whole genre thing away entirely. This is very much one of those times.

Zeal & Ardor were founded by Manuel Gagneux, a Swiss-American musician who had the idea of merging metal with Gospel/Spiritual music: slave songs, chain gang chants etc. So that sounds interesting already right? Somewhere along the way, he then merged in some creepy sounding Gregorian (sometimes Satanic) chants and some trip-hop type electronica. Confused yet? Yeah, I would be too, but the thing is IT WORKS. It works brilliantly. On paper it may sound a bit messy; on record it’s like entering a fully formed alternate universe. I was totally immersed in it. When it finished, coming back to the real world was a bit like surfacing from a deep dive under water.

The opener, and title track, ‘Devil is Fine’ is fully on the Spiritual end of the spectrum, replete with a fantastic soulful vocal and the percussive chinks of chain links. Actual chain gang chain links. I kid you not. Underneath though, you can hear the metal guitar thunder starting to brew. The next track ‘In Ashes’ is, well, is an experience. It has an atonal ironic Klansman style chant as its primary vocal, around which Gagneux riffs in a rich bluesy style as the noise level builds.



‘Come on Down’ is equal parts early acoustic blues and screaming speed metal with melodic interludes. ‘Blood in the River’ harks back to that Spiritual sound that the album started with before the band kicks in and takes it somewhere else entirely. And ‘What is a Killer Like You Gonna Do Here?’ is a creepy, sinister whispered track with some nice blues guitar riffs, reminds me a little bit of latter day Tom Waits.

There are three tracks on the album called ‘Sacrilegium’ which provide the bits of electronica I mentioned above. Largely instrumental, they break up the intensity of the other tracks really well I think and add to the otherworldly feel of the whole thing.



Honestly, I think this is a brilliant record. It came out in February this year, and I’ve only just discovered it by accident because it’s currently on the Amazon Vinyl Two for £30 offer and I liked the look of the album cover. (Yes, that’s how randomly I sometimes operate). But I’m asking myself why, why I’m only discovering it now? Surely this should be playing everywhere I go, on a loop, with the album artwork on huge billboards at the side of every road. I can only end the review by reiterating: it’s superb. It’s one of the most ambitious records I’ve ever heard. Go and listen to it. Go, now, what are you still doing here?


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