Let Zeal And Ardor Hit You With Some Blackened Blues

As music listeners, we consume and digest so much that we’ll often think we’ve heard it all, but then something inconceivable makes its way to our ear drums and reminds us that we have not, in fact, heard it all. When it comes to music, the possibilities are endless. Such is the case with the latest album from Zeal And Ardor, Devil Is Fine. Taking blues and combining it with black metal? Is that even possible? It is possible, and the results are very impressive.

The first run through Devil Is Fine greets you with the title track of the same name. Innocently enough, it has the feel of an older blues song. The raspy vocal lines and recording bring to mind the older recordings of such blues greats as Bobby “Blue” Bland, Buddy Guy or Howlin’ Wolf. The crackle of the microphone that can be heard has you wondering if this was sampled or performed. After many spins of this album, I’m going to operate on the premise that the vocals were sampled from older songs whose origin I was unable to pin down (h/t Son Ov Wolf for raising that observation). From what I can gather, the vocals were sampled from recorded versions of Negro Spirituals. According to Wikipedia, Negro Spirituals are described as:

Generally Christian songs that were created by African slaves in the United States. Spirituals were originally an oral tradition that imparted Christian values while also describing the hardships of slavery. Although spirituals were originally unaccompanied monophonic (unison) songs, they are best known today in harmonized choral arrangements. This historic group of uniquely American songs is now recognized as a distinct genre of music.

Since most slaves were not allowed to have any property of their own, having a musical instrument was unlikely and singing songs was really their only musical outlet. The early songs were composed usually on the spot and utilized clapping to keep a beat. I made the connection because the vocal stylings used on Devil Is Fine to the same kind of sound that some songs from the Coen Brothers comedy, The Ladykillers. To give you an idea of where some of the sounds being used on Devil Is Fine come from, you can listen to “Come let us go back to god” from the soundtrack. When “Devil Is Fine” kicks in, you’ll hear blues, black metal and Negro Spirituals work in concert with each other to bring you a combustion of something unlike anything you’ve ever heard. At first, the track conjures the image of African American slaves who are on their way back from a day’s worth of hard labor all chained together walking back and forth. The track makes use of chains clanking in place of the clapping that would typically serve as the backup to the vocals.

“In Ashes” is where things really start to get interesting as the song starts off with some tremolo picking guitar accompanied by the soothing vocal sounds of “Burn the young boy, burn him good. Wash the crimson stains from the field.” This repeats as new instrumentation is added with repetition of the vocal line. The first time is with what sounds like a fiddle to go along with the tremolo riff. The next time around brings in the drums to build things up until a scream lets out and the music intensifies with the guitar becoming more prominent and a double kick drum beat taking the composition to the next level.  The screams on most of the tracks here serve to blend in with the furniture instead of taking center stage because the star of the show is the bluesy vocals that hook the listener and keep them entertained throughout the track. As with several other tracks on the album, the formula that is utilized by Zeal and Ardor is to introduce a vocal melody and have the music that goes with it start off gently and then up the intensity in both departments as the songs progress. It’s a formula that works extremely well and makes for an interesting listen.

“Come On Down” follows a similar formula and is equally as compelling. Once again the vocal lines use a bluesy intro that later morphs into more tremolo riffs that compliment each other perfectly. A brief clean guitar break coupled with more soulfully executed vocals give you a breather before returning to a stomping, blackened beatdown that will have you nodding your head in approval the second it arrives. In addition there’re three instrumentals going by the name of “Sacrilegium I, II, & III.” The first almost sounds like a Middle Eastern dance song, the second a song that would be played from a wind-up music box near a baby’s crib and the third, a track of some trippy sounding piano. There’s also “What is a Killer like you gonna do here?” that features some Mike Patton-esque rumblings over a blues filled backdrop. The closest to straight black metal that you’ll come to on this release is the blasting “Children’s Summon” which still uses chanted vocals and the soulful singing that is found throughout the album.

“Blood In The River” is the song I keep coming back to.  It utilizes the formula of sampled vocals over the blackened blues so well that you cannot help but sing along. The clanking of slave chains once again make their appearance accompanied by only the thump of the bass drum and that sweet Negro Spiritual crooning. I’d really love to hear where these were taken from to see if the lyrics were shuffled around or taken out of context to fit with the theme of the track. “A good god is a dead one, a good god is the one that brings the fire” are the lyrics to the opening that repeat themselves throughout. This is followed by what could be characterized as a chorus. That goes “The river bed will run red with the blood of the saints and the blood of the holy.”  After several measures of this passage, the song gets heavier with tremolo riffing and double kick drums. The vocals maintain their presence, and the transition into black metalish elements is perfect just as it is with the other songs that follow this formula.  These two vocal passages are the mainstays of the track. Next comes a brief interlude with a sample and some chanting behind it before the song returns to the lyrics used in the opening. The song reaches its climax at this point as the vocals are layered with backing vocals to intensify what was introduced in the beginning. If this song were the mound of cocaine Tony Montana was snorting from at the end of Scarface, I’d ingest the whole damn thing without a second thought.  As of this writing, I’ve listened to this song alone a total of 80 times because I simply cannot get enough of it. Jam it below and get infected by the blackened blues.

4/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell


If this had been an EP of just the four songs highlighted, this would’ve easily have been a 5/5 release. The other tracks are interesting in their own right, but those four are so strong that they carry the music to unforeseen levels of excellence. It will be interesting to see if the concept of using sampled vocal tracks with entirely different music catches on and we see other artists experiment with it. I really think Zeal and Ardor is on to something here and has created something new and exciting that keeps me coming back for more. Head over to Zeal and Ardor’s Facebook page, give them the thumbs up, purchase Devil Is Fine over at bandcamp, head to the Federal Reserve, get an advance copy of the Harriet Tubman twenty spot and shove it down a racist white man’s throat to remind him it’s 2016, not 1886.

h/t Sweaty Nipple

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Published on: April 27, 2016

Filled Under: Reviews

Views: 7598

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  • Waynecro

    Thanks for the great review, Mr. Deuce. This is one of the eeriest things I’ve heard in a while.

  • Enid: List your five main interests in order of importance.

    Seymour: Uh… I’d have to put traditional jazz, ragtime, and then blackened-blues at the top of the list…

    • If you love real blues, you’ll love Blueshammer.

      • Boss theSpeedMetalBastard Ross

        Dammit, I thought this was some blackened thrash blues band I hadn’t heard about.

        • I have to admit, I was somewhat expecting something on the same lines. All well though, just found Hellripper and it rips as you well know.

          • Rob M

            Found that band in the comment section of a Metal Injection article of all places…

          • Shit kills for sure, you ever check out that band from Detroit I posted yesterday, Nuke?

          • Rob M

            Missed that one…I’ll definitely have to give them a look.

            Have you checked out the other bands that dude from Hellripper is in…both Lord Rot and Rats of Reality are pretty damn solid

          • Hans Müller

            Rats of Reality went straight on the wishlist, good stuff.

      • Haha! Goddamn, that movie is pure gold. I’m pretty sure there is a Eagleheart episode about shitty bar blues-rock.


      • Celtic Frosty

        We gone play some authentic, way-down-in-the-delta blues!


  • Boss theSpeedMetalBastard Ross

    This is… funky. Not the groove laden “funky”, but more of a smelly cheese “funky”. Not necessarily a bad thing, but off putting at first smell. a “funky” that you will either grow to love, or never touch ever again. I don’t know where I stand.

  • Joaquin Stick

    Me from 8 minutes ago: Some genres shouldn’t mix, there’s no way this is anything but an interesting experiment.

    Me from now: This fucking crushes. I am an idiot.

  • tertius_decimus

    > This player is temporarily unavailable.


    • Joaquin Stick

      Mine just did that too. Bandcamp must be having some issues. I refreshed and it worked again.

  • I really like the idea of this album and the crossover exists more than one might first think (I’ve even spoken to…Edward maybe? about something like this before. Unfortunately I find the mix weak and the writing mostly uninspired and the end result leaves me cold. (but not in, like, a cool black metal way.) As far as the sources of the recording, these are taken unattributed from various compilations that are endlessly repackaged by everyone from PBS to the Smithsonian.

    • Dubs

      I think, conceptually, the idea of marrying two distinct dichotomies (spirituals and “Satanism”) is an interesting study in dynamics and in the hands of a very intentional artist, could be used as a vehicle for exploring, say, pre-Christian African animism in black metal?

      • Simon PhoenixKing Rising

        Well there is Orisha Shakpana from Jamaica. One guy, sings about Yourba folklore. Unfortunately the music is bland and raw and not in a good way. Plus the guy is a first class fucking douche.

        On the other hand there is Conrad from Barbados, who are much better.


    • Joaquin Stick

      This is why I don’t look further into things. I enjoy them instead. (JK, that is actually pretty interesting)

    • birdmask

      Hey there Christian. I made the album. There are no recordings on the records, that I didn’t sing myself. the only sample is of Aleister Crowley talking.

      Thanks for listening and I’m actually glad you took time to write out your thoughts on it.
      Manuel / Zeal and Ardor

      • well that puts a new spin on things

        • more beer

          It really does.

      • That makes this even more amazing! Love the vocal arrangements, they are extremely catchy and soulful.

        • birdmask

          Thanks! And thanks a ton for the review! (assuming you are the same Deuce)

          • Yup, that’s me.

          • Hey Birdmask, is Z&A a one-man project?

          • birdmask


          • Great stuff. Where are you from?

          • birdmask

            New York and Switzerland

          • Alright. Would you call this an American project? I’ll be tipping Z&A on Facebook/uponyourteeth

          • birdmask

            I guess I would. Yeah.

          • Cool, thanks. It really is great stuff.

          • birdmask


      • Elizabeth Short

        This is exactly what I imagined it sounding like, and I, for one, am thoroughly enjoying it. Well done, sir.

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    Class review man. Liking this stuff, its a curious blend but it blends well, compels rather than jars and has an overall haunting vibe.

  • first impression: love at first sight (RFI)
    …but after reading Christian’s comment, i’m left wondering if i should love it

  • nice try, RD.

    dont think this was made with me in mind

  • Edward/Breegrodamus™

    Howlin Wolf is real dope.

    • Boss theSpeedMetalBastard Ross

      Edward speaks in truths, not riddles.

      • Edward/Breegrodamus™

        I am the way, the truth, and the light

    • “Evil” is my jam.

      • Edward/Breegrodamus™

        I am… smokestack lightning

  • Simon PhoenixKing Rising

    I really need to listen to this.

  • Janitor Jim Duggan

    Will listen to eventually. I’m a blues lover. I love John Lee Hooker and Robert Johnson as well as a lot of other blues bands.

  • Matt Pike’s Sweaty Left Nipple

    I really dig this album. It’s unique, and the spiritual chants mix with the blues and black metal so well. Great review Mr. Deuce. Blood in the River is soooooooooo good.

  • The band confirmed the vocals are not sampled.

  • Trash Boat

    The vocals are NOT sampled; they are original performances from the singer, which he has pointed out on the Zeal and Ardor FB fanpage.

  • David Adam Meredith

    as per the Zeal and Ardor Facebook the vocals are all original and not sampled.

  • The Watcher

    I hate to break the party up, but DREADLORDS have been doing this well before Manuel. If you’re not going to be original, at least give proper credit.