If you haven’t been introduced to Zeal & Ardor before, then now’s a good time to get to know the avant-garde lovechild of frontman Manuel Gagneux. The unlikely fusion of black metal and 19th century spiritual music was birthed all from a suggestion Gagneux was given via 4chan, which has since made Zeal & Ardor become one hell of a phenomenon in the 21st century of metal. Since touring abroad, Zeal & Ardor are set to make their debut on Australian soil in February with Deafheaven at the Perth Festival, and their own headliner across the east coast. Leading up to this upcoming tour, we had a nice chat with Gagneux all about the evolution Zeal & Ardor had been experienced during 2018. With the release of “Stranger Fruit” and a plethora of headline shows and festival appearances to tackle throughout the year, no one in the band took a minute to look back on everything in attempt to outdo themselves show after show.
”We were so busy with shows and functioning that we never really got to appreciate the things that happened” Gagneux states. “We just had to function the whole time, and I’m really happy about that because we just appeared to our standards, and did the best shows that we could. It’s also dangerous because I tend to think that if something wasn’t that great, it kills the notion of wanting to be better, and I think it’s very important for what I wanna do.”
Gagneux also made a few remarks about what had been some of the highlights that he and the band were offered to take part in over the course of 2018 with some intriguing artists. “We were lucky to play a lot of festivals in the summer, and toured in the US with Astronoid, who are this interesting band that are like — I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s happy metal. We also did two shows with Behemoth, and as evil as those guys look onstage, they’re the kindest people on earth!”
Going further into the conversation, Gagneux brought up about how he’s always broadening his taste in music. While he still embraces the pure malevolent decibels of black metal bands like Darkthrone and Mayhem, Gagneux holds artists such as Tom Waits and Wendy Carlos in high regard, which is evident in the diversity inoculated into Zeal & Ardor’s music.
“I’m just a huge fan of music” he says. “I think the isolation of the song rhythms is very weird because I don’t know a single person that just listens to one genre only. Even the most dubious metalhead has fucking J-Pop on his iPod. So it’s bizarre for me to hear artists from one genre, because it doesn’t make sense for an artist to play say jazz or blues. That’s why i just enjoy mixing it up and I’m really happy when people actually like that stuff. I just picture someone being say some pop artist and they’re just stuck doing pop music for the rest of their life, but they wanna make a country record. That must be the most frustrating feeling in the world! So, I’m just doing this for Justin Bieber” he laughs.
One of the key elements of Zeal & Ardor’s sonic fingerprint is the influence of spiritual music that had been sung in hope for salvation during the dark period of slavery within the United States. Gagneux believes that the lyrical themes inspired by spirituals that he delivers with his voice, and the dark aura that circulates throughout the band’s latest effort “Stranger Fruit”, is to be considered as a sanguine piece of artistry.
“With the music we make, it would be silly and unwise not to address professionally what’s happening in the world right now. So, of course someone’s gonna say something like “Trump is really bad, you should smoke weed and be friends”, but it’s not that easy, and I think that what we just wanna feel is how things may be bad right now, but there’s still the people who care and that in itself is hope.”
Gagneux continues by adding how the people of the United States had been lacking a sense of self and dignity, which in the philosophy of Satanism that the band embraces within their music has always been about. With the juxtaposition of Satanism representing free-thinking and the yearn for freedom of slaves during the American Revolution, it was apparent to Gagneux how appropriate it was to incorporate such elements into Zeal & Ardor’s passages, including the infamous, and short-lived branding iron the band had used during the early stages of touring.
“Of course, there’s the sense of gay identity or black identity, but there’s no appreciation of the self and the willingness, despite the cause. I sound like a communist revolutionary right now, but I think that’s really important and comparative to any movement or identity. That’s why it’s well-incorporated in the music, and it’s also why we did the branding iron where people could submit to the cause of free-thinking, but really, we were just proving the point of free-thinking.”
After being able to prove his capability when thrown into the deep end as what originally was a one-man project to a team effort, Gagneux’s only motive was to be able to make something that would stand out in a bizarre manner to any listener that would either enjoy or disregard it. Even with the tour cycle for “Stranger Fruit” continuing a year after its release, Gagneux has an inkling of what could come next from Zeal & Ardor, but not in a way that’s overly foreign to them even as something still new, with an exciting future ahead of them.
“Devil Is Fine definitely had its DIY charm that I think didn’t have an intention that was running through it. With that, I really wanted to make an album that you could listen to from start to finish if you really wanted to, and it didn’t hurt or was not redundant. Going forward on one side, I think we just wanna reside with what we have, but also kind of evolve. I think it would be very boring to just do a “Stranger Fruit 2”, so we’re just having our sights aimed on a reinvention of sorts. Not too drastic, but noticeable.”
Get your tickets to see Zeal & Ardor on tour HERE!