Music Review: “Devil Is Fine” by Zeal & Ardor

Rating: 5/5

By Ivana Martinez

“A simplistic Harmony between African American music and Black Metal”

The avante-garde black metal artist Zeal & Ardor released its first song after its vocalist and instrumentalist Manuel Gagneux was challenged by two 4-chan users to combine black metal and African American music. Even though Gagneux knew it was a prod at his African American Ancestry, he decided to not give the users the response they desired and went on to write “Devil Is Fine.” This song combined the vocals and feel of African American Spirituals with the lyrical themes and instrumentals of black metal. After the surprising success of this song, Gagneux decided to turn the band into his new full-time project, fueled by a hypothetical mashup: “What if American slaves had embraced Satan instead of Jesus?”

The Album “Devil is Fine” is about as far as one can get from any traditional black metal. Equally embracing all the musical genres it pulls from, Zeal & Ardor has created a unique sound unmatched by any other band. At only 25 minutes the record certainly acts as a taste of what was to come for this band in the future. However, it may also be the most experimentalist, including many styles that are not seen in their future music. It is certainly more Avante-Garde than their future albums would be, but that is not to detract from how good the album is; from front to back it is certainly an album worth listening to at least once.

Manuel Gagneux does a fantastic job with the vocals on every song, with his talents shining through and adding to the occultism of the music. During the chanted, spirituals, his voice echoes clearly and powerfully, allowing the listener to easily follow along with the at times menacing lyrics. Meanwhile shrill screams lightly pierce the ear as backing vocals, alluding to the darker themes of each song and providing accompaniment to the heavier instrumentals. To me Gagneux has fantastically blended more traditional black metal vocals with spiritualist chants, creating a mystic and occult feeling. In addition to the unique mixture of vocals, Gagneux has managed to incorporate many instruments and sounds not traditional to black metal including pianos, drum machines, and synths. With the three songs on the album, Sacrilegium I, II, and III, Gagneux purposely created songs more resembling electronic music rather than black metal. They show that Zeal & Ardor aims to be different from all other bands that it shares a genre with. These songs also work to divide the album into sections, each one sharing similar lyrical themes.

In short, “Devil Is Fine” is a non-traditionalist take on the black metal genre that sets itself apart by bringing in the soul and feel of African American Spirituals. When mixed together, these genres create a mystic and occult sound like none other that always leave me coming back for more.