ALBUM REVIEW: Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit

Release Date: June 8th 2018
Label: MKVA Records


Well, no-one saw this coming. Not even with Zeal & Ardor‘s trademark chain-gang-chanting-meets-black-metal hybrid firmly established. Led by firebrand Manuel Gagneux, new album ‘Stranger Fruit’ is Zeal & Ardor‘s chance to build on the hype generated by their debut, ‘Devil Is Fine’.

Listening to this record will leave you unnerved, yet firmly rooted in your seat. You want to reach for a drink, or a snack, or answer that message from that pesky friend of yours, but ‘Stranger Fruit’ just simply won’t let you be. Whilst there are enough hooks and chants, this is an austere, claustrophobic record.

The inclusion of ‘Don’t You Dare’, premiered over a year ago for a RTS session, is a treat indeed. The sample referencing human sacrifices on the aforementioned song hints at a narrative just as haunting, if not more than displayed on ‘Devil Is Fine’.

Whereas the switches between the chain-gang chanting and black metal could be described as jarring on their debut, they have managed to become very smoothly intertwined together here. In ‘Waste’, you can actually visualise a fiery, heroic rebellion against slave masters being led. ‘Devil Is Fine’ hinted at this vision, whereas with ‘Stranger Fruit’ it’s truly brought to life.

Gagneux has a bloody powerful set of pipes, particularly when reaching for his higher register. There are also some throat-ripping screams on show as well, namely on ‘We Can’t Be Found’.

If you weren’t sure of this record’s intentions, the title-track, a clear reference to Billie Holiday‘s ‘Strange Fruit’, drives a key part of them home powerfully. A sludgy, unrelenting beast that concludes with a terrifying fuzzed-up piano, this confirms that Zeal & Ardor‘s message is also relevant to the current racial tensions in the US. It’s an impassioned and cathartic call to arms. Anyone else want to say this project is a gimmick? Anyone? Thought not.

It feels like it’s only a matter of time before Zeal & Ardor can become a big name in the world of metal, and cross over into the mainstream in equal measure. And those scary normal people can get their filthy, greasy hands on it, but for now it’s ours.

Zeal & Ardor have a sound with an aspect that’s heavily rooted in the blues, but unlike so many bands with a perpetual fear of the 21st century, this sounds like the future. There’s a storm out there, and it’s time to let it sweep you away.