Album Review: Stranger Fruit by Zeal & Ardor
Well, this is going to be a bit of a difficult one for me to dive into. But, like a demon slave, here I go again… on my own.. going down the only ro - OK. Sorry. So, anyway, Zeal & Ardor! Bring it. This has to be one of the most divided opinions I have ever had on a record or a just a band in general.
I’ll admit when I first heard it, or the first 10 times I heard it, even; I was pretty much leaning towards the “ I do not like this hipster nonsense bastardizing black metal” side. And furthermore, almost to the straight up “this is stupid and I refuse to like it” side. Gradually working towards the “hold on now.. I think I’m starting to get it” as I hum the songs in my head all day. I thought, “Alright, let me just throw my ego and predispositions aside and give this an honest listen.” Something was just not letting me write this one off. I kept going back for more, refusing to just simply not like it. And, to be honest, I have no idea why… so I thought this must mean something. So I dug into this bad boy. I dug in six feet deep, man. I researched Manuel Gagnuex, Zeal & Ardor mastermind, and as a result, immediately liked the music more. Upon hearing his story and the idea behind how Zeal & Ardor came to be as well as the message this music is trying to convey, I found it quite cool.
I suppose you could say that shouldn’t matter, music is music, you like it or you don’t. While I understand that perspective I have to respectfully disagree and delegate that to a case by case basis. I feel, for Zeal & Adror especially, the story behind the music is just as if not more interesting than the album itself, making it that much more necessary to know the deal. I’ll spare you every little detail as it is one quick google search away. Also, I’m pretty sure every other reviewer online also spelled it out for you ( trust in me, I read just about every article and review out there in my research), but for good reason. Essentially he uses black metal as a juxtaposition of actual “black” music.. being traditional African American gospel, blues, aka “slavery” type tunes. Rendering the question what if the African American slaves embraced Satan in the same way that they actually embraced Jesus Christ? I can’t say for sure what would happen for them socially or politically, but their music would have been a whole fuck ton of a lot cooler. At least, Zeal & Ardor’s interpretation of it would led us to believe that.
Having not heard their debut album, Devil is Fine, before the first few times I listened to this sophomore effort, Stranger Fruit, I decided to go back and listen to it before seriously diving into this one again. And I strongly suggest you do the same. Devil is Fine sort of lays the foundation or paints the picture of what Z&A are trying to create; and Stranger Fruit builds on that.. and builds on it pretty wonderfully, at that. The first record I found digested a little better with me the first time around, maybe because it is shorter and the songs sort of stand for themselves. That can be considered good and bad because individually the songs are strong and cool; but as an album Devil is Fine feels non-choesvie, a bit all over the place, and maybe forced in places. The exact opposite is true for Stranger Fruit. Stranger Fruit is a full on concept record telling a story and taking you on a journey of twists, turns, demons, and angels that’ll grow on you like the plague. As mentioned before, the first few times listening it just was not for me. I consider myself to be a BIT of a death/black/thrash metal old school purist/annoying fan boy. So when this type of stuff comes along, it try my damndest to keep an open mind. And sometimes, for better or for worse, that doesn’t really work. I considered this to be just a bunch of nonsense thrown together using black or extreme metal portions as a gimmick and as I’m typing this “Dead” from Mayhem is rolling over in his grave. I know. And that may be true, but for Zeal & Arodr, it actually works for what they are trying to do, and they do it well. After a few listens and once you can get yourself past the so called gimmick, there is no denying that they are exceptional musicians and the vocal performances and songwriting abilities are absolutely impressive. Furthermore, it is impressive that music created in 2018 can sound truly unlike anything ever before, in a good way. In fact, I now have the complete opposite mindset on using the whole black metal thing in his songs because he’s doing it to be proactive, to piss people off, maybe. And that is essentially what metal and punk rock is truly all about, and if you can pull that off while selling records, I say hats off to you, brother.
I think the key is all aspects of these songs are, more or less, quality. The gospel-y portions are catchy and full of soul. While there is definitely better black metal in the world, Z & A’s black metal is exactly where it needs to be on here. The black metal played against the African American blues plays out like a beautiful contrasting painting complete with a social commentary that is undeniably strong and unmatched by almost all new metal that has been out recently, and it’s hard to argue that point. It also could be a good record to offer someone who is into the hard rock/heavy metal flare of the music world but not quietly sold on the extreme ends of that, to serve as a bridge to get them (or yourself) into some full fledged black metal akin to the likes of Bathory, Dissection, Immortal, Watain.. etc. And that is important and as special as anything else music can do.
Now, I’m not saying its a perfect record. There are some songs and tid bits of songs I could live without and have questions about.. but all in all its an extremely interesting piece of music that is without a doubt worth a few listens. It’s pretty awesome and so is the traditional extreme Satan-laced metal stuff, and that is ok. We can keep those separate and love it as much as anything. But we would be feeding right into the hypocrisy posed by Zeal & Ardor if we refuse to accept it, or give it a chance.
Rock Rating: 3.5/5
Gym Rating: 4/5
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