Album Review: Zeal & Ardor – Devil is Fine

By Ryan Falla

The debut record by Zeal & Ardor, ‘Devil is Fine’, is a piece of artistic work that stretches the listener’s imagination by melding two seemingly incompatible genres into one fluid work. ‘Devil is Fine’ was created by lone musician Manuel Gagneux after being inspired by visiting internet music forums and imploring its posters to suggest musical genres with great disparity he could mould together in 30 minutes or less. ‘Devil is Fine’ was born out of these experimentations, with one poster telling him to mix black metal with “African-American” music.

Instead of taking offense, Gagneux found this idea to hold extreme thematic interest. I couldn’t describe the artistic endeavors pursued by artist Manuel Gagneux better than the African-American artist himself, describing the music as such:

“Imagine if slaves in America had rejected Christianity and embraced Satanism instead, if instead of being forced to accept the ‘will of God’, they had chosen defiance and rebellion and the power of Satan. That’s the world in which the album is rooted.”

‘Devil is Fine’ opens with a title track that pulls you into the plantations alongside the slaves as you watch them rebel against their “masters” with Satanic mystery. The record eases you into this high-concept work, opening with the chanting vocals of a chain-gang hard at work; layered with the sound of chains dragging and beating against each other to further the picture of slaves facing oppression.

What is truly impressive is the power and rebellion behind the chain-gang vocals that encourages spiritual indomitability and power in the darkest of times; although the gravitation towards a darker spirituality lend a discomforting twist to the music. This is a piece of African-American art to its core, the black metal undertones lending power to the racially-charged elements instead of trying to mash them together.

The opening title track is a lyrical masterpiece, singing strongly of the love and guidance Satan offers to these downtrodden people. To those listening in passing, it may sound like a chain-gang singing out to empower their spirits, though at closer examination the lyrical content is truly disturbing; they praise Satan as joyful and hopeful as a congregation of Christians looking for spiritual enlightenment in their God.

The album follows into the track ‘In Ashes’ which takes on the black metal/slavery era chain-gang formula on at full force. This track underlines the black soul of this record with heavy black metal tones, putting together an intensely unique piece of art that musically paints what essentially is the beginning of voodoo in America.

The record takes a few breaks to give room for synth tracks ‘Sacrilegium I-III’ that form physically discomforting atmospheres that paint dark pictures of the somber and malicious emotions harbored by the slave-era Satanists. Do not let the traditional EDM of ‘Sacrilegium I’ put you off, while it is a big fault for this album, ‘Sacrilegium II & III’ forego the EDM elements to create much more quality pieces that form palpable emotion in the listener.

‘Devil is Fine’ is not a record for people looking for something fun and simple, this record takes multiple listens to properly absorb the message embedded within. This is not because the record is poorly constructed, it is quite the opposite, this record is so high-concept and experimental that understanding the art behind the music takes more effort than a simple listen. Like the classic film “2001: Space Odyssey”, just experiencing for pure entertainment will leave you feeling underwhelmed. (This is not a comparison, it is simply an easy example to draw attention to the record’s necessity to put forth mental effort to understand before you can casually enjoy. You movie purists can stop freaking out now.)

I would personally recommend starting the album out with the track ‘What Is A Killer Like You Gonna Do Here’, taking heavy afro-jazz onto a darker path while avoiding the heavy conceptual build of the album to create the most straight-forward track on the record.

If you want a simple entertaining record, this is absolutely not for you, ‘Devil is Fine’ is for people who want to experience and understand a piece of art. The entertainment value in this record is present in its mental engagement, if you want to think about your music.

‘Devil is Fine’ by Zeal & Ardor is very much an album I would recommend to people wanting to mentally engage themselves with a very well put together “extreme” concept, though if you’re looking for a record that you can pop on and enjoy, you may want to look elsewhere.

Rating: 8.5/10

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Record Label: MVKA
Release Date: February 24th 2017

Track Listing:
1. Devil Is Fine
2. In Ashes
3. Sacrilegium I
4. Come On Down
5. Children’s Summon
6. Sacrilegium II
7. Blood In The River
8. What Is A Killer Like You Gonna Do Here?
9. Sacrilegium III

Zeal & Ardor links: website | facebook | twitter | bandcamp