Mere months after their tour supporting Meshuggah, genre-defying metal outfit Zeal & Ardor return to Manchester to serenade us with their socially conscious and infectious sound. Supporting them were the newest rising stars in extreme metal and Britain’s answer to Code Orange, Heriot.
Heriot went on first and began with some of the most intense gut-punching bass ever to grace the Academy. Heriot opened with ‘Coalescence’ and it is understood immediately that this band is a force to be reckoned with.
Guitarist and vocalist, Debbie Gough provides the majority of the lead guitar while unleashing these guttural shrieks that would sound at home on a Napalm Death record before switching off into serene cleans with gorgeous instrumental backing.
It could be argued that it’s strange that a band so aggressive and heavy would be playing with Zeal & Ardor but the whole theme of the show was pushing musical boundaries.
Swiss soul black metal outfit, Zeal & Ardor, have yet to become a mainstream name in metal but they will be soon, perhaps even after this tour.
There simply isn’t anything like them.
Combining elements from slave chants and black metal, their show encapsulates some of the bleakest and dark music ever made while still managing to be life-affirming at times.
The band opened with the anthemic chants of ‘Church Burns’, one of the strongest features of the band that makes them distinct from other acts in the scene without alienating a potential newcomer.
It took very little time for the band to bring out some of their heavier material with ‘Gotterdammerung’, containing blood-curdling screams, pounding drums and complex guitar work all in their native German.
It would be easy to understand a band like Zeal & Ardor being very self-serious and humourless considering the subject matter and style of music they operate with but frontman Manuel Gagneux engages with the audience in a very light-hearted way and even cracks open a cold one before beginning ‘Tuskegee’ – a song that he says “is about a very sad event” which is a massive understatement to say the least.
‘Run’ sonically invokes Meshuggah with its focus on jazzy drumming from drummer Marco Von Allman and intense rhythm sections accented by dissonant guitar work and at times Magneux even sounds like Jens Kidman with his deep and forceful bark.
The only disappointment of the show was the absence of backing vocalists, Denis Wagner and Marc Obrist, who fell ill early on in the week. Magneux still delivered an impeccable performance but some of the harmonies on tracks like ‘Gravedigger Chant’ and ‘Row Row’ are sorely missed. It’s disappointing but understandable and hopefully they recover soon.
The band’s sound is best exemplified in ‘Devil is Fine’, a unique and dark track featuring gorgeous emotionally driven vocals accompanied by a mid-tempo stomping rhythm that is as melancholy as it is anthemic and grandiose.
With the massive cries of “Left hand up, Right hand down”, the band begins their final song all while teaching the audience a new and accessible dance imitating the sigil of ‘Baphomet’, an image that has long since become important in the black metal scene. One of the more memorable instances in this song is of a number of people waiting for the second verse once they figured out their left from right, a problem that is fairly universal as even I had to do the L shape.
Zeal & Ardor have all the makings of a new all-star band in the metal scene.
Metal has always been a genre that has been built on experimentation but has since become afraid to do so – but the new generation of metal seems to have every intention of reinventing what the genre can do and what it can say.
Zeal & Ardor are a unique band now but in the future their sound may inspire a brand new genre and wave of bands in the same way that the old guard has; For this reason (and if that doesn’t happen) then at least they taught some people their left from right.