Zeal and Ardor: Stranger Fruit

The metal band is back with a brand new album that stretches the limitations of their genre even further.

Written by Mark Glotzbach, Follow his blog @markglotzbach 

A while back we introduced you to Zeal and Ardor, a black metal band that combines elements of metal, blues and slave spirituals to answer the question, “what if slaves rejected the God of their overseers and embraced his opposition, Satan, instead?”

Manuel Gagneux is back with a new feature length album, Stranger Fruit; 16 tracks of raw energy and power.

The album begins with the sound of a hatchet splitting wood followed by a simple and melancholic guitar riff and a harmony of men humming, much as those who were forced to work in the fields would hum to keep their spirits up. Gradually you hear the roaring guitars and drums build louder and louder and then suddenly they drop off entirely and it returns to the hatchet, guitar and humming.

With the first Zeal and Ardor album, Devil is Fine, Gagneux wrote and produced the entire album by himself, with Stranger Fruit he brought in producer Zebo Adam to help improve on the actual sound of the music.

In an interview with Loud Tv , Gagneux explains:

“I just wanted to have a very good product and I could have done it all alone and it would be the same as Devil is Fine but in the end that’s arrogant towards the listeners.”

Gagneux also enlisted the help of drummer Marco Von Allmen instead of using what he refers to as “cheat drums”(MIDI) to add to the quality of this album.

For a metal album, Stranger Fruit has an amazingly wide range to it. “Don’t You Dare” starts with a somewhat bluesy feel to it gradually escalates into a black metal roar which will give you goosebumps. Two tracks later you get “The Hermit” which is an ambient instrumental which features forest sounds and a gentle piano giving it the eerie feeling being lost in a mystical forest.

The track “You Ain’t Coming Back” begins with Gagneux singing in a surprising falsetto that is just hauntingly beautiful and contrasts nicely with the heavier vocals in the song. After that we get “The Fool” which is a creepy mix of organs and synths which sounds almost like a spooky EDM track.

The title track “Stranger Fruit” has a very ominous tone to it, with lyrics like “There’s a storm out there,” “Ain’t no shelter for us,” and “They’re out there lookin’ for you.” The title, as Gagneux explains to Loud Tv, is based on Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” from 1939, which refers to black bodies hanging from southern trees. This makes it clear that Gagneux’s song is about trying to escape from the lynch mobs which fits well with the slave perspective that the album presents with such fervor.

This is followed up with another synth track titled “Solve” which might as well be titled “The Fool pt. 2” due to its identical tone, but it serves well as an introduction to the next track.

Next we have “Coagula” which begins with a Satanic sounding chant of “Solve et Coagula”(often written on statues of Baphomet). The phrase means “dissolve and coagulate”, referring to how something, in this case the human spirit, must be broken down before it can be built back up.

The final track, “Built on Ashes,” features the same chord progression from “Intro” which I thought was a great way to bring it all together. The first verse once again refers to the Billie Holiday song, Gagneux sings:

Like a strange fruit, that’s out of season
You are bound to die alone
You will swing free on the breeze then
You are bound to die alone.”

The whole song is beautifully melancholic. As my wife said to me the first time she heard the track, “This is really really depressing.” Although it is a morbid topic, it actually has a hopeful tone to it, as if death is actually a relief for a slave who has lived a life full of fear and anguish which was forced upon them by their oppressors.

I simply love this album. It’s full of diverse sounds and themes, as well as emotional intensity. Gagneux has joked that the band expects to only have another three months of relevance, but I personally hope to hear much more from him.

You can find Zeal and Ardor’s Stranger Fruit on Spotify.

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