Imagine this. For a moment, just imagine.
You are from a land and a people with its own stories and its own gods. You are taken from this land by force, put in chains, suffer the worst deprivations and degradations that humans can inflict on other humans. You are taken to a distant land far from your gods where you hear of these people’s own god, a god who allows these things to be done to you, your family, your children. A god whose priests say you are less than human.
Then you hear this god has an adversary.
Who do you turn to?
The first song here is one of the most powerful openings on an album I have ever heard. Ever. It has a chain gang sound, both rhythm and percussive sound, the raised voices calling up from bondage with both belief and melancholy. Except here the words are no blind faith in a god who has allowed them to be chained, they are the prayer inside to the adversary to deliver them. It is haunting, eerie and deeply moving.
From here I have no idea where this album is going to take me.
‘In Ashes’ answers that with a merciless backdrop of a black metal riff and the preaching voice leading the spiritual chorus in prayer. The words are stark and take on the reality of the field work, a gospel choir woven deep with the black metal sound and Luciferian devotion bleeding into the whole.
‘Sacriligeum’ shifts, but not jarringly, into almost trip-hop instrumental; electronica with just a twist of the choir again deep behind. ‘Come On Down’ is a piece of utter magnificence; blues chants sliding seamlessly into the howl of elemental black metal and back it out. Piano and searing riffs, howls and simple voices. ‘Children’s Summon’ blends a harpsichord sound with a black metal riff, chanting intimidating and devotional satanic voices added. Imagine Rotting Christ and Japanese visual kai Moi Dix Mois blended and you are almost in touching distance. Almost.
‘Sacriligeum II’ with child’s music box sounds leads you without defences into the sheer brilliance of ‘Blood In The River’. More chain gang lead and chorus vocals, black metal screams, riffs and a refrain that chills to the bone but you still want to sing at the top of your burning lungs. ‘What Is A Killer Like You Gonna Do Here’ is a soft shoe blues goth shuffle, barely audible it builds slowly into stark guitar picking and the related title; somewhere between Nick Cave and a dark moment in a Tarantino movie.
‘Sacriligeum III’ is a delicate, bubbling keyboard passage, a moment of slumber and dreams of better things. A closure.
Zeal & Order is the fever dream of Manuel Gagneux, Swiss-American New Yorker originally. It is a truly, disturbingly, hauntingly original music. Black black metal? American slave black metal? Satanic spiritual? It is a truly visionary melange of blues, inverted gospel, black metal and electronics. Parts whisper Rotting Christ, King Dude around Burning Daylight period, Nick Cave, Robert Johnson and Norwegian black metal. I’ve been wrecking my brains and I genuinely cannot think of another album that has come so out of the blue(s) with such a burning fire of originality, intent, cohesiveness and, dammit, deeply memorable songs.
And apparently they also play live. Being in a crowd as ‘Blood In The River’ plays would be….
I’ve no idea where you take this sound. All I know is that, yes, you’ll be knee deep in Noisey and Vice types as this is undoubtedly hipster-ish of the highest form but that is not the fault of Zeal & Ardor. This is original, emotional, affecting and steeped in alternative history and atmosphere.
Every black metal fan should listen to this. Every open minded underground metal fan should listen to this. If you like blues you should listen to this.
Albums like this do not come along every year. I have no idea how to score it. But for quality, ferocious originality and emotion I have nowhere else to go.