Zeal and Ardor Album Review

By: Caleb Rippee

After much anticipation, Zeal and Ardor’s brand new album has finally dropped and it is absolutely phenomenal! So, in honor of Black History Month, I will be doing an in-depth dissection and review of this incredible album. I highly recommend you listen to the album yourself as well, so that you can truly appreciate the greatness that is Zeal and Ardor, words can only do so much. (Also some background information, the concept of the lyrics and imagery of the band are purely a concept developed of slaves turning to Satan instead of God back in the 1800s. I do not endorse any church burnings or anything of the sort. We will be mainly focusing on the MUSIC of this album, not the lyrics.)

“Zeal and Ardor”

This track begins with some epic, movie trailer-esque blares and rumbling to really set the stage. The thundering percussion really adds to the grandeur and massive feeling of the song. Manuel Gagneux also gives us our first taste of his impressive vocals. A short and sweet song that acts as a great opener.

“Run”

This song hits us with some tasteful rolling tom drums and a nice dark groove that makes you want to move, or run (Get it? I know, I’m hilarious.) The song is the first one on the album to feature Gagneux’s powerful shrieks and screams. It has some very heavy and slow tempo changes that really throw some more power when the rolling groove returns for the verse. If this song doesn’t get you moving, I don’t know what will. (Except a bunch of other songs on this album… whatever, you know what I mean!)

“Death to the Holy”

This song jumps right into some bouncy drums with a very catchy vocal part. You can also hear some creepy piano melodies in the background and then it quickly turns sinister with a palm muted guitar riff and then some powerful tremolo picked guitar melodies that are just pure evil. There are also a few electronic samples you might catch from time to time that get thrown in as well. Overall this song is a really good continuation of the building groove the album is developing.

“Emersion”

As opposed to the other songs so far, this song is pretty happy and jovial. It begins with some electronic samples and joyful synths chiming along and creating this really rich and pleasant atmosphere. Of course, there is eventually some pretty violent screams and blast beat drums, but it continues a very happy and nostalgic feeling melody. The song, despite having vocals, doesn’t actually have any lyrics. It doesn’t matter though because the track really speaks through the music and I hope that you’re listening.

“Golden Liar”

Even though Zeal and Ardor have already explored the two polarizing sides of music in about 3 songs, they add another layer of emotion and vibe to this already multifaceted album. The song Golden Liar is a pure cowboy anthem, it truly sounds like it was ripped straight from a western movie. You can just imagine an outlaw pacing the streets and wandering down the roads on a horse while this song plays. It has some really tasteful clean electric guitar and builds from there, homogenizing into a lush and powerful soundscape that really emphasizes the earlier epicness of the opening track. This song is a must listen for Tombstone fans.

“Erase”

This song misleads you in the beginning, I’m gonna be honest. It has this really sweet clean guitar melody and Manuel Gagneux singing in a lower register gently over the fragile sounding guitar. But then the song explodes into this super heavy section ripe with dissonance and pounding drums. We eventually return to the delicate intro section a few times, but I would be lying if I told you this was a “soft” song.

“Bow”

This song opens up with some catchy hums and blaring synthwaves. The simple yet pounding drums add to the percussiveness of the song that is emphasized by the rhythmic sound effects. Gagneux lets out one of his most energetic vocal performances on the album. A pretty short song that is packed with energy and sounds like it belongs in a car commercial.

“Feed the Machine”

This song blends the cowboy-esque styles of Golden Liar with the pummeling heaviness of Run. It explores the blending of the different styles that have been presented so far. The bluesy accentuations also act as a sort of grounding for the extreme heaviness of the song. 

“I Caught You”

Palm muted guitars and a brooding yet sultry low growl from Manuel Gagneux open up this song. The tension quickly builds and then the instruments stop with Gagneux letting out a shrieking banshee-like scream and then is quickly followed by some crushing guitar riffs and quick paced drums. There are also some dissonant siren noises sprinkled into the song that add to the urgency and franticness that the song is trying to convey.

“Church Burns”

Possibly my favorite song on this album, some amazing vocals backed up with chants that are meant to mimic how slaves in the 1800s would sing. The simple clean guitar and tambourine in the verses makes the heavy distorted guitar even more powerful when it comes in for the chorus. The melodies and riffs are insanely catchy and super fun to listen to. This is definitely one of the most radio friendly songs on the album but that does not take away from the quality at all. The pure power and epicness of this song is just infectious in almost every way. Definitely recommended!

“Gotterdammerung”

In case you had a headache trying to read that name, it’s pretty much pronounced: (Gott Uh Damm Ur UNG.) This is probably the heaviest song on the record and is also one of my personal favorites. The name roughly translates to: “Twilight of the Gods” or “Ragnarok” and it’s almost entirely sung in German. The song embraces the Black Metal influences with open arms and really gives off evil vibes. A truly crushing masterpiece.

“Hold Your Head Low”

This song dips into the bluesy side of Zeal and Ardor’s sound palette. Featuring a powerful vocal performance with Manuel Gagneux boldly singing and screaming, pushing the limits of his range. There are also some super heavy black metal parts with an emphasis on melodic phrasing and creepiness. The song is a benchmark of the band’s sound and a good portrait of what the band is capable of.

“J-M-B”

Definitely one of the more experimental and frankly confusing songs on the album. Definitely shows off the progressive side of the band with some conflicting musical emotions and the song kind of seems unsure of how it wants you to feel. I think that the track is a nice dynamic curveball in the album that really throws you off balance and keeps it interesting towards the end. Confusing yet satisfying.

“A-H-I-L”

And finally, we have arrived at the end of our journey, the final track on the album. The final song has a melancholy, epic feeling with heavy electronic instrumentation and more blaring synths. It’s a nice clean ending to this diverse, moody album. It represents a glimmer of hope and joy at the end of a dark and painful road. The joyful yet sad sound of the track represents feeling hope for the future but not forgetting what you lost along the way. 

There was a lot to unpack in this album, more than I could include in just this brief overview. So I implore you to check the album out for yourself and try and find your own meaning in the songs. 

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