Album Review: Stranger Fruit - Zeal & Ardor

Artist: Zeal & Ardor

Album: Stranger Fruit

Genre: Avant-Garde/Experimental Metal

Released: 8 June 2018

Review by Jackson Price

As possibly the most interesting and original band to hit the worldwide heavy music scene in the past couple of years, Zeal & Ardor’s follow up to their 2017 (worldwide official) release Devil is Fine was always going to come with some big expectations. Manual Gagneux, the man with the vision behind this band has spread his wings and made the move from one man studio project to a full functioning touring act since we heard from him last. His approach and formula haven’t changed if anything it has developed and matured into something I think many would not have expected.

Stranger Fruit has a more organic, raw and in your face sound as a whole, which could partly be accredited to producer Zebo Adam, while Kurt Ballou (Converge, Nails) has certainly made his presence known in his role of mixer for this album. At times this new release feels much darker and more brooding than the prior release with the electronic components dialed back in favour of a more soul and bluesy touch which is not to say the electronic and slightly industrial feel is gone, but its use is more refined. While Devil Is Fine felt very controlled at times in order to achieve the newly conceived experimental sound, Stranger Fruit is a bit more of an emotional beast mixing more of the human elements that exist in both traditional soul music and the more extreme and heavier styles Manual Gagneux incorporates into his work. However, there are plenty of throwbacks to the 2017 album in both melody and sounds used. The line between the 2 releases being very strong.

From the first minute of the intro track, the listener can hear how Z&A’s latest release has a deeper atmosphere and a slightly ‘bigger’ sounding production, with more layers and a darker tone that lets the listener really sink into it. Intro/Gravediggers Chant offers a lot of familiarity to those who have heard the prior material and eases into the album well. The album moves through it’s 16 tracks rather seamlessly and flows really well, the kind of album you can put on, hit play and just forget about the skip or stop button. If you, like many others, spent a lot of time familiarising yourself with Devil Is Fine, you won’t find a lot of surprises in Stranger Fruit and that is by no means a negative thing. Instead, you will feel more like you are dropping straight back into where ‘Devil’ left off and continuing your aural expedition into Gagneux’s world of Zeal and Ardor.

Watch the official video for "Gravedigger's Chant" below:

One could easily be forgiven for thinking there was only so much ground to be covered in the realm of gospel blues played in a black metal style, however Z&A have kind of shrugged off any assumptions of novelty or attempts to be a trendsetter. The overall message and conviction mixed with genuinely great songwriting and great musicianship really push how legitimate this band is and how far down the rabbit hole they can go on this trajectory. A one hit/one album wonder this band is not.

For those lucky enough to have caught the band during various tours over the past 12 months, you might be familiar with some of the tracks on the new album as the band doesn’t seem phased by limiting their setlists to purely released material, and so has been using quite a bit of new material on tour. Some songs on the new album even pre-dating Devil Is Fine.

To finish this one up all I can say is if you were like many and got into the sound and concept behind Zeal & Ardor’s earlier work, then this release is perfectly suited for you. Stranger Fruit is the type of album that shows a band is dedicated to the path it has chosen with little in the way of what I could call change. Which I actually found really refreshing at this point in the bands career. This album solidifies all those ideas fans have heard from Gagneux in the past, it moves the band clear of any “one hit wonder” accusations and evaporates any thoughts of the band being a type of novelty act. Keep your attention to top 10 Album Of The Year lists come December 2018 - January 2019, because this one is going to be a reoccurring staple of 2018.

8.5 out of 10.

Stranger Fruit is out June 8th via MVKA.

For Fans of: Well, anyone with a grasp of black metal mixed with the less ordinary or avant-garde, and an open appreciation for soul and blues feels.

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