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L-R: Marco von Allmen, Tiziano Volante, Denis Wagner, Manuel Gagneux, Marc Obrist, Mia Rafaela Dieu

No grace, say the beast’s own name
Left hand up by the end of the day
Many gonna die and the sun don’t shine
When the servants have their way

—“Servants”
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Zeal and Ardor is an avant-garde musical group created in 2013 by Swiss-American musician Manuel Gagneux. It combines elements of blues, gospel, traditional African-American spirituals, and Black Metal. The idea for this unusual combination originated on 4chan’s music board, when Gagneux was challenged to create a song combining black metal and traditional black American music (though because this was 4chan, the poster didn’t say “black American”). Gagneux, the son of an African-American mother and a Swiss father, has also stated that a significant idea behind the project was asking what would have happened if African-American slaves had embraced Satanism rather than Christianity (based on the observation that both they and Scandinavia were forcibly converted to Christianity in real-world history).

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After a self-titled demo in 2014, they released their first album, Devil Is Fine, in 2016, to significant critical acclaim. Their second full-length, Stranger Fruit, followed in 2018.

You can stream and purchase their discography on Bandcamp.

Discography

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Tropes:

  • Album Title Drop: Played With. In addition to the Title Track (obviously), the phase “Strange Fruit” also appears in “Built on Ashes”. The album title is Stranger Fruit. This also doubles as a Shout-Out to the Billie Holiday song that inspired the album title.
  • Alternate History: Essentially a musical example, as explained in the band description.
  • Avant-Garde Metal: Are they ever!
  • Badass Boast: "From Servants"
    I come in the breath of the dead
    Bathing in my papa's blood
    Bare-boned and covered in red
  • Bilingual Bonus: “We Can’t Be Found” contains some phrases in German. Gagneux, it should be noted, is a native of Switzerland, where German is one of the official languages.
  • Black Metal: Mixed in with Blues amongst others.
  • Boléro Effect: Around half of the songs that contain both blues and black metal will use this as a way to transition between the two styles without feeling disjointed.
  • Careful with That Axe: Comes with the territory of being a black metal act, but given the band’s Soprano and Gravel vocal styles, this trope seems a bit more pronounced here than is typical for the genre.
  • Darker and Edgier: Listeners familiar with Gagneux’s Baroque Pop project Birdmask, but not with the concept of this band, are in for a shock.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: American history, Gospel Music, Black Metal, Satanism, Christianity, and numerous other elements of society are thrown together in a blender in a way that completely scrambles the expected reading of any of them, resulting in all kinds of inversions, subversions, deconstructions, and zig-zaggings.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The obvious reading of the band’s songs is as narratives of a slave revolt, of course, but many are also intentionally written so that they can also be read as messages to the American middle class, casting the modern-day treatment of African-Americans (especially by police) in light of slavery. Gagneux has said:
    “Lyrically the intent was for [‘Servants’] 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.”
  • Downer Ending: “Built on Ashes” is one lyrically, though it sounds more like a Bittersweet Ending musically.
    Like a strange fruit that's out of season
    \You are bound to die alone
    You will swing free on the breeze then
    You are bound to die alone [...]
    Don't darling die on me now
    We'll dig a grave close to your home
    Don't you fix your eyes on me now
    We never said you'd come back home
  • God-Is-Love Songs: Several songs essentially serve as inversions of this trope's first half.
  • Hollywood Satanism: Averted, with the satanic elements meaning to invert but also reflect the rebellion and freedom at the core of American Slave Spirituals. Because of this, their music somehow manages to bring the core element of liberation that runs through both Satanism and Christianity to the forefront, revealing how in practice they are Not So Different, and it feels genuinely religious in a way that is very uncommon in modern music.
  • I Am the Band: Manuel Gagneux handled all the instruments and production on the debut album Devil Is Fine and handled most of them (except for drums done by Marco von Allmen) on Stranger Fruit.
  • Instrumental: About a third of their songs. Many also qualify as Breather Episodes.
  • Live Album: Live in Montreux and Live in London are both cases of Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: Some songs such as “Blood in the River” open with Gagneux’s voice unaccompanied.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Done intentionally on several songs. “You Ain’t Coming Back” and “Built on Ashes” are two examples, both mixing pleasant melodies and arrangements with dark lyrical content.
  • Metal Scream: Wouldn’t be Black Metal without some, being especially present in Stranger Fruit. Type 3 is most common, though Type 2 shows up briefly in “Don’t You Dare.”
  • Miniscule Rocking: Many of their songs are fewer than two minutes long, though many of these are also more interludes than songs. By Black Metal standards, they also qualify as a meta example, since black metal songs tend to be on the longer side.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: 1, 10, and anywhere in between, often within the same song, though not always.
  • Mood Whiplash: Songs can transition from blues and gospel style to Black Metal and back on a dime.
  • Not Christian Rock: Due to the gospel influences and overtly religious lyrics, they could be easily confused for an example of this by a person unfamiliar with the concept of the band. But… well. Several songs, we should note, keep the language ambiguous as to whether Gagneux is singing about God or Satan; “Gravedigger’s Chant” is a good example.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: “Children’s Summon” features a music-box-like synthesizer riff.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: “Coagula” features the words “solve” and “coagula” repeated constantly throughout the entire song.
  • Protest Song: A lot of their discography qualifies, with a fairly strong Aesop against racism in particular.
  • Rock Me, Asmodeus!: Even by Black Metal standards, this is unusually central to the concept of the band.
  • Satan is Good: Played straight, though in a Good Is Not Nice fashion. “Devil Is Fine” is probably as good an example as any.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: Gagneux frequently overdubs several vocal tracks to create a choir consisting entirely of his own voice, resulting in a sound that is virtually unique in metal music. This can also be combined with Soprano and Gravel as described below, still in Self-Backing Vocalist territory.
  • Self-Titled Album: The demo.
  • Song Style Shift: Honestly, at least a quarter of their songs do this at least once.
  • Soprano and Gravel: Alternates soulful clean singing with some intense Metal Screams; sometimes (mostly on the demo and Devil Is Fine) these occur at the same time, thanks to overdubbing. Notably, the vocals are so well executed that some critics initially assumed that Gagneux had sampled them from obscure old soul or blues recordings, which Gagneux sharply denies. Given that he pulls them off live, he's almost certainly telling the truth about this.
  • Titled After the Song: Stranger Fruit, of course, is a reference to Billie Holiday’s Signature Song, “Strange Fruit”.
  • Title Track: The self-titled EP, Devil Is Fine, and Stranger Fruit all have examples.
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