5 things we learned watching Zeal & Ardor's debut UK show

Revolutionary black metal/gospel blues crossover extremists Zeal & Ardor play London, and Hammer are down the front

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Zeal & Ardor’s Devil Is Fine, a bewildering stew of slave spirituals and black metal put together by Swiss-American musician Manuel Gagneux, might just be be one of 2017’s might surprising, enthusiastically received releases. With an expanded six-piece line-up (including two backing singers) taking the album on the road, Metal Hammer dares to ask the question: how do you turn a 25-minute album into an hour-long set? Here’s what we learned…

The band have been forced to run before they can walk

A year ago Zeal & Ardor were on no one’s radar. Now the band’s debut album has the critics frothing, their first London show has sold out, expectations are bewilderingly high, and they’ve have had to pull off the difficult trick of appearing to be fully-formed before they’ve had any real chance to develop. And while the band might occasionally come across as a hastily-convened group of students suddenly thrust into the spotlight’s unblinking glare, when it all comes together they’re capable of making a fearsome, brilliantly unholy racket.

They’re already better than they were

The Zeal & Ardor album isn’t perfect by any means. Three moments of individual brilliance aside — the title track, Come On Down and Blood In The River — much of Devil Is Fine feels like an half-finished experiment in atmospherics rather than a fully determined attempt to explore the gospel/black metal hinterland. But the new songs the band perform suggest that there’s much more to come: that clanging, spiritual noise, with more of a thudding, apocalyptic groove.

It’s not your regular metal crowd

Your regular metal crowd is represented, but they’re not the only ones. Zeal & Ardor have also attracted an audience pulled in by the other musical elements at play: the blues, underground hip hop, batshit synth experimentation and scratchy, arcane folk. As melting pots go, it’s pretty sophisticated.

Manuel Gagneux is a star

He doesn’t say much, and he doesn’t move much, but Gagneux is undoubtedly charismatic, with a voice full of soul and thunder. Metal needs more wonky afros.

Devil Is Fine is a modern classic

Most bands can get through a lifetime of recording without producing a song that has the impact of Devil Is Fine. It’s saved for the final encore, and as an audience raise their glasses to the sky and roar along with every word, it doesn’t just sound like something entirely new, it somehow sounds like one of the greatest anthems ever written. It all ends with the kind of ovation that keeps a band onstage a little longer than scheduled, as if they can’t quite believe the reception they’ve just been given. It’s one of those nights.

Zeal & Ardor are channelling black metal and the American slave trade

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.