Zeal & Ardor

Zeal & Ardor

Zeal & Ardor

In blending black metal with African American spirituals on Zeal & Ardor’s 2016 debut Devil Is Fine, Swiss American artist Manuel Gagneux broke new musical ground. On his third album, he takes an industrial detour with lead single “Run,” which channels Ministry and early Nine Inch Nails, and “Götterdämmerung,” which he sings in German. Elsewhere, “Bow” plunges gospel chants into an electronic dirge, while “Golden Liar” sets soulful melodies and spoken word to a dark country twang. “It’s fun messing around with sounds and seeing what sticks to the wall,” he tells Apple Music. “That’s how I approach music—I’m just playing with different elements for the gits and shiggles of it. And then sometimes it turns out sounding good.” Below, he discusses each track on his self-titled album.
“Zeal & Ardor” “We decided early on that our sound is basically just our atmosphere, and within that realm we can do whatever we want genre-wise. So it was pretty important to set the tone, to establish that atmosphere thoroughly. I think this summarizes the intent. It starts with a broody synthesizer and then one element after the other comes in. By the end, you should be in the Zeal & Ardor world.”
“Run” “We wanted the have the first proper song on the record be kind of relentless. That’s also why we put it out as the first single. This is a nonstop aggressive song, and we’ve never really done anything in this manner. It felt like a good way to be off to the races.”
“Death to the Holy” “I really like this track because it kind of summarizes what we’re all about in just three minutes. You have the bluesy stuff, some piano in there, and then that groove goes directly into this almost metalcore-type breakdown part with evil synthesizers. It’s the most Zeal & Ardor song on the record. It has the elements people kind of expect from us, so we wanted to get that out of the way early on so the record can get weird later.”
“Emersion” “This starts off with a really relaxed kind of hip-hop beat. We always play with contrast, so to have the heavy part sound heavy, you have to precede it with a really mellow soft part. And I think this is the most extreme in that regard, because it starts super low-key and kind of dreamy—and then out of nowhere, this wall of black metal comes in. We also put some flavors of post-rock in there, some hopeful melodies, just to offset the abrasive contrast.”
“Golden Liar” “I was looking into ways to make the atmosphere a bit thicker, and of course a master of atmosphere is Ennio Morricone. So I liberated some elements of his music—I stole them. I did it to have this kind of slow-burn song, and I think it’s one of the longer ones. I really like this track because it conveys heaviness without being really heavy in the instrument department.”
“Erase” “This is one of the more proggy ones. I only noticed this after the fact, but all of the songs are rather simple when it comes to how many parts they have. But this one is an outlier in that regard, and there’s also a lot of modal changes. I think we started in D, and it goes to a different key in a way that you don’t really notice. But if you skip from the beginning to the end of the song, we have the same guitar lick in a different key. It’s like a teleportation for the listener without them noticing, like a little magic trick.”
“Bow” “My influences are really showing here, because I listen to a lot of industrial and electronic stuff like Woodkid. I just wanted to explore different kinds of heaviness, which is not just double-bass drums and guitars but sounds that are awe-inspiring. So there’s a distorted horn section in there which I came up with, and not Woodkid or Hans Zimmer. That was totally me by myself. I just wanted the most grandiose sound.”
“Feed the Machine” “Funny story about this one. I do demos on my computer, and I program the drums for those. When I showed it to our drummer Marco, he was like, ‘That’s too fast, man. I can’t play that.’ So this song would’ve been even faster were it not for that. But the whole gag of this song is that there’s a really harsh, Ministry-esque part which sounds like a machine pumping away—which is where the title came from, I’m afraid.”
“I Caught You” “We’re kind of the outliers in this whole black metal thing, because people think we’re phonies or whatever because we do different stuff. And the biggest sin you could commit in black metal is to have nu-metal influences. So that’s what we did with this song. We even slowed down the speed of the song just for those sequences so they would sound as Deftones-y as possible. So that’s a fun one. I can’t wait to play it live.”
“Church Burns” “The intent with this was to have the most potentially controversial lyrics of the album be in the most poppy or pop-adjacent song we have. And seeing how this was on the front page of Apple Music recently, I think we kinda made that happen. I’m actually in disbelief that it worked that way, because in itself it’s just a pop verse, and then the breakdown, if you wanna call it that, is kinda ZZ Top-ish honky-tonk. I was kind of worried about that, because it’s so un-metal, so I was relieved that people ended up liking it.”
“Götterdämmerung” “This is the title of a movement in a Wagner opera, and Wagner was heavily used by not-so-great people in the ’30s and ’40s in Germany. So I wanted to reappropriate and reclaim Wagner, even though he himself was a huge dick, too—but dude wrote brilliant music. And here’s how idiotic I am: I was really worried about the German lyrics, like can people even emote to this? I was totally blanking on the fact that Rammstein is a huge thing at this point. So, duh. But German just sounds metal, and it’s a fun language to scream in.”
“Hold Your Head Low” “This is an older song that wasn’t written for this album specifically, but it kind of fit in. I think this is us at our bluesiest, and it’s also kind of a slow burner. Here’s where my Opeth influences show in guitar writing. When we were on tour with them last December, I elected not to play it because I was afraid Mikael [Åkerfeldt] would say, ‘You fucking ripoff!’ But we put it on the album because it feels like a little breather after all that harsh abrasiveness.”
“J-M-B” “I tried to put some jazz chords to metal, which I thought was kind of an idiotic endeavor at first, but when I presented the songs in the studio, we felt we should put it on the record. It almost became like a secret hidden track, which is impossible to do these days. But since I write all these demos alone, I give them all these little project names. This one was ‘Jazz Metal Blues,’ but you can’t put that on the record sleeve, so: ‘J-M-B.’”
“A-H-I-L” “This is more somber. The title stands for ‘All Hope Is Lost.’ In black metal, the atmosphere is basically everything, and it’s like that hopeless, drab rainy day in Norway, like ‘my father just got killed by a pack of wolves’ kind of vibe. I just wanted to try and emulate that with synthesizers, as far removed from actual black metal as possible. It felt like an appropriate outro after ‘J-M-B.’ This is back to serious business and it’s time to go to bed.”

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