After gaining widespread acclaim and recognition from some of the biggest names in the metal scene – from Slash to Prophets Of Rage – on last year's breakout Devil Is Fine album, the avant-garde/blues/black metal mash-up of Manuel Gagneux's Zeal & Ardor project has returned with their follow up Stranger Fruit.
"I am really happy with the results of this record," Manuel tells us. "I feel like there are plenty more places to mine for this as a stylistic entity. But I'm also aware that it is finite as an idea. I feel like I'm closer to what I want Zeal & Ardor to be at this point, though."
Here he gives us a track-by-track rundown of one of 2018's most highly-anticipated sophomore releases.
"Well, as it's called Intro, you should probably get the sense that... it's an intro. The first track is always really important because it sets the mood, and that's what this does. It establishes a mood for the album to follow."
"It's early in the album and we released it as the first single because it's not typically what you would expect from us. It's really not a metal song at all, it has weight to it and it has heft, but it really isn't a metal style heft. It's introducing one half of Zeal & Ardor to the listener."
"Lyrically the intent was for this song to be read in two different ways. It could be read as a slave revolution and a call to revolt, but it could also be read as a message to the American middle class. I don't really want to say much more than that... in fact that level of ambiguity is something that continues throughout this record."
Don't You Dare
"It's fair to say that I portray a different kind of character in this song. Up until this point the songs have a sense of inviting and community to them, whereas Don't You Dare has a much more imperative sense to it. That switch was important to have in the record, it's no longer a welcoming, beckoning thing. It's a command."
Fire Of Motion
"This one has an Alistair Crowley sample in it, and it's just a super fun song to play. I wish I could say something more deep and meaningful about it, but the truth is that it's on the album because it just is fun to rock out to."
"There are two couples of instrumentals; The Hermit and The Fool, and Solve and Coagula. They serve as breathers for the ears, if you hear a soft bit then the harsh bits coming up are going to sound way heavier. So, it's just cheating... but at least I can admit it."
"There is a narrative to the album, but I'd rather keep it to myself and let the listener decipher their own meaning and story to it. But Row Row is kind of a turning point in the story... whatever story that might be! And this song is one of the ones where I incorporated more soul elements into the music, rather than gospel, it's got a kind of Motown flair to it."
Ship On Fire
"So, again, I don't want to spell out too much of the story here, but maybe there was a mutiny that takes place between these two songs. So, on Row Row there are definitely chains involved in the protagonists, whereas Ship On Fire has a much more occult feel to it. Lots of occult chanting that I can't get into, but it's basically the second chapter to Row Row."
"There is a musical inside joke on Waste, have you heard of the Millennial loop? Well it's basically a vocal line of four bars that all really lazy songwriters use, it's in every pop song of the last few years. I wanted to incorporate that into the darkest song on the album. So it made sense to put it here on Waste."
You Ain't Coming Back
"I wanted to make a hard-hitting song that doesn't rely on the extreme metal parts. Instead of having double bass pedals, it tries to use guitar string dissonance to replicate that mood. It's very enticing, it belies its conviction, it's hiding its macabre nature. That was the intention; a seduction that hides what lurks beneath the surface"
We Can't Be Found
"This is actually the song we worked longest on. It's the one that we took the most liberties on as well – it's just a bunch of riffs and beats that we had and managed to amalgamate into something cohesive."
"We wanted to make a song that soared but was really difficult to listen to because of the lyrical narrative of the song. Getting that sweet spot was really challenging. It's really harsh to listen to, and I actually can't listen to it, because of the content. It's really not enjoyable, and it took a lot of experimentation to get to that place."
Solve and Coagula
"Again, these are just bridging palette cleansers."
Built On Ashes
"We wanted to summarise the entire album in a song, give it a cliff note, a sign off, and also to make that a bittersweet thing. This is why the album ends with the lyrics 'You were bound to die alone' repeated ad nauseum. The album itself isn't a happy thing and I think it is a fitting end to the whole endeavour."
Zeal & Ardor's new album Stranger Fruit is out June 8 and available to pre-order now.
Zeal & Ardor will play Download festival on June 10.