One of the most musically remarkable albums of this year

4chan has been responsible for some terrible and reprehensible things. Fortunately for music lovers, it was also the origin of Zeal and Ardor.

The idea suggested to Manuel Gagneaux in a 4chan discussion forum, Stranger Fruit is the second official outing for the US-Swiss musician, an escalation and expansion of what he began on 2017’s Devil is Fine.

Stranger Fruit combines its two disparate muses – Scandinavian extreme metal and African-American blues and roots – into a unique and compelling musical retelling of the African journey into American slavery and its corresponding narratives of racism, alienation, deprivation and oppression and the long fight for freedom and justice.

The album builds in force from the slow but ominous intro piece that soon becomes the Delta-blues, almost Rival Sons-like ‘Gravedigger’s Chant’ and ‘Servants’ before ‘Don’t You Dare’ opens the gate to the true reveal of Zeal and Ardor’s musical vision, descending from Southern-style rock and into a frenzied black-tinged metal chaos. Further along, and ‘Row Row’ begins as a Gospel piece before it too hurtles into the menace of extreme metal; following track ‘Ship on Fire’ similarly explodes with an elaborate arrangement that incorporates ritual chanting. It is these two tracks that signpost the journey for the remainder of the album, the urgent riffing and thunderous time-keeping of melodic metal extremity clashing with the deep spirituality of traditional African-American music. Interludes add a further dimension, the retro synths of ‘The Fool’ set up the direct contrast with the crashing ‘We Can’t be Found’ just as ‘The Hermit’ with its jungle ambience created the tension for ‘Row Row’ to break earlier; the serene ‘Solve’ bumps up against the grinding metal of ‘Coagula’, itself a doorway into Stranger Fruit‘s mighty climax. ‘Built on Ashes’ is both the final amalgamation of the album’s distinctive musical forces and the culmination of an enslaved peoples’ journey, furious tremolo-picked guitars overlaid with Gagneaux’ soulful vocal delivery, call-and-response choral parts and double-kick drumming combine in an almost overwhelming crescendo of emotional majesty.

Kurt Ballou’s idiosyncratic production and the more organic recording process, from real drums to analogue synths, add further splendour and  richness to Zeal and Ardor’s already intriguing  sonic palette, helping Stranger Fruit to become one of the most musically remarkable, spiritually- and politically-charged albums of this year.

  1. Intro
  2. Gravedigger’s Chant
  3. Servants
  4. Don’t You Dare
  5. Fire of Motion
  6. The Hermit
  7. Row Row
  8. Ship on Fire
  9. Waste
  10. You Ain’t Coming Back
  11. The Fool
  12. We Can’t Be Found
  13. Stranger Fruit
  14. Solve
  15. Coagula
  16. Built on Ashes