Zeal and Ardor
Stranger Fruit


5.0
classic

Review

by SomeGuyDude USER (36 Reviews)
June 8th, 2018 | 38 replies


Release Date: 2018 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Unchained.

For those of you unaware, Zeal & Ardor is a project that began when Manuel Gagneaux asked 4chan to give him a pair of genres that would be difficult to blend together, and the answers were "black metal" and, um, "black music" (with a far less polite nomenclature). On paper, it's a daunting task. I've said in another review that black metal seems keenly poised to blend with a surprising number of genres, but negro spirituals? Could the icy aesthetic of black metal somehow merge with the soul-wrenching spirituality of slavery music?

Well, Devil is Fine proved that it could, and Stranger Fruit takes things into territory that is, for lack of a better word, "epic."

Devil is Fine's opening eponymous track remains, despite having not a lick of metal in it, one of my favorite metal album tracks of all time. The intro to Stranger Fruit doesn't hit that high a level, but then Gravedigger's Chant (what a badass title) lands, and it's even better. It's so well written it's legitimately difficult to believe that it was made in 2018 by a young man from Switzerland. Everything from the aching vocal delivery to the thunderous drums, the melody itself, even the way the vocals intentionally distort, it just sounds like it was somehow pulled out of a field in the American south a hundred years ago and given a coating of modern musical paint.

What really separates Zeal & Ardor from other black metal hybrids is where the foundation of the music lies. Instead of taking black metal (I mean, granted, it's all black metal...) and then throwing in some Americana/folk/blues elements, Z&A clearly starts in the spirituals and then finds way to add black metal to them. The first hint of metal isn't until halfway through track three, but despite the heavy distortion and fast picking, it's there to supplement the frankly intimidating melody and howling vocals rather than form the base of the song itself.

Intimidating is a pretty good word for Stranger Fruit, actually. Sixteen tracks and 47 minutes isn't especially long, but each song feels like a little journey of its own, and the sheer cacophony and malaise that permeates the entire runtime means you might need a quick breather between songs. Some bands make music heavy by turning the distortion up as high as they can, screaming as loud as possible, or getting those triggered kick drums going at top speed. Z&A is the "heavy" of a parent burying a child or watching one's home disappear over the horizon with the knowledge that you'll never see it again. Oh sure, there are shrieks and double bass and other black metal tropes, but the meat of Stranger Fruit is in Gagneaux's vocal performance and the non-metal elements that everything else swirls around.

There are also tracks that veer toward the more pure metal side, such as Waste, but then you've also got oddities like The Fool and Solve which, aside from sounding incredibly similar, are peculiar little electronic keyboard numbers with eerie lilting melodies that bring to mind some kind of traveling carnival, the kind that seems a little unsettling while you're there and then is nowhere to be found when you bring your friends to see it the next day. Then the album does something unexpected and ends on a climax instead of a denouement, with Built On Ashes being a monolithic wall of distortion and pounding drums rather than an ambient or chanted track like I would have expected. I say that in gratitude, by the way.

Obviously, an album like this, especially coming after Devil is Fine, is going to need one hell of a title track to impress, and Stranger Fruit's title track is perfection. A slow, marching piano riff that develops into those stomping drums that are the backbone of the project eventually erupt into a scream that is itself backed up by ethereal ahs that come across like a tsunami, or more accurately a hurricane, as there's a small break at the dead center of the track before it all comes whirling in again.

Devil is Fine was a clear AOTY for me when it came out, and Stranger Fruit is following suit. Classics need to push the genre forward, but I'm not sure that applies here. Gagneaux has created something that cannot be duplicated. There's just no way for anyone else to follow in his labored footsteps without sounding like a pale (hah) imitation. It's an album that needs to be heard, even if you've no interest in what it's doing, because there's nothing else like it.



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user ratings (422)
3.8
excellent
other reviews of this album
Chamberbelain (4)
If this album were to be a film, it would be directed by Tarantino- unpredictable and violent....



Comments:Add a Comment 
cloakanddagger
June 9th 2018


732 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Great review. Haven't listened to all of this album just yet but what I've heard so far has been pretty damn good.

Jacob818Hollows
June 9th 2018


218 Comments


Downloading this now. Great review. I thought "Devil is Fine" was interesting but not fantastic, so I'm excited to try this one out!

PostMesmeric
June 9th 2018


779 Comments


This is a pretty great record. Tons of diversity in the different song styles.

SomeGuyDude
June 9th 2018


377 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I fanboy'd Devil is Fine hard, but I think this one irons out a lot of the complaints. Basically perfected the formula.



If Devil was Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Stranger Fruit is Snatch.

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
June 9th 2018


32047 Comments


Well you got me hyped. I enjoyed Devil is Fine but thought it could have been much more, let's see what he did here.

cloakanddagger
June 9th 2018


732 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

"If Devil was Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Stranger Fruit is Snatch."



I love both films tbh, I think there's a bigger step up in quality with Zeal and Ardor than there was with those films.

SomeGuyDude
June 9th 2018


377 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Man that's hecka lame my review didn't get featured LMAO.

SitarHero
June 12th 2018


14714 Comments


That sucks. Both reviews are good, but this one is better.

GarthAlgar
October 23rd 2020


990 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I feel like this album has gotten better with age. New EP is pretty good, but I am ready for another masterpiece record like this.

LunaticSoul
May 25th 2021


2403 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkP9qFA2u90



shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit what a banger

Lichtbringer
July 28th 2021


1158 Comments


There’s another new track out there and I quite enjoyed it.

WalrusTusk
February 15th 2022


1813 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Holy shit the new album is really damn good. Absolutely bangs from front to back.

Senetrix666
February 15th 2022


1583 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

for the most part ya, but some of the non-metal tracks are kinda boring and Church Burns is absolutely his worst metal oriented song.

WalrusTusk
February 15th 2022


1813 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Really? I feel like there's worse on Stranger Fruit.

Pikazilla
February 15th 2022


29805 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Golden liar was boring as shit but will check the new album



Highly doubt it's as good as this though

Senetrix666
February 16th 2022


1583 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

its not but the heavy tracks definitely bang (except church burns)

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
February 16th 2022


32047 Comments


So the new one is good? I heard the first song and couldn't even finish it. I think I have some permanent mental damage from that time someone compared them to Imagine Dragons, now I can't hear anything else.

Flugmorph
May 11th 2022


34326 Comments


this is quite amazing

WalrusTusk
May 11th 2022


1813 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

New one kind of lives in the same space for me as Limp Bizkit. It bangs, if it's maybe a little simplistic at times.

jemaiseyeti
May 25th 2022


283 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

New tracks are definitely better in a live setting, albeit a tad too simple.



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