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Zeal And Ardor - "Devil Is Fine" (CD)

Zeal And Ardor - "Devil Is Fine" CD cover image

"Devil Is Fine" track listing:

1. Devil Is Fine 03:12
2. In Ashes 02:38
3. Sacrilegium I 01:54
4. Come On Down 03:19
5. Children's Summon 03:08
6. Sacrilegium II 02:11
7. Blood In The River 03:33
8. What is a Killer like you gonna do here? 02:15
9. Sacrilegium III 02:44

Reviewed by on February 15, 2017

"...there's truly excellent material here that needs to be spread far and wide, even if its marred by a lack of cohesion and some throwaway tracks."

Did you ever expect to hear soul, trap, children's lullabies, and extreme Norwegian black metal on one disc? Welcome to the wide world of the metal underground, where nothing is forbidden and everything is permitted... Originally self-released on Bandcamp and then subsequently yanked from all digital outlets when a record deal was signed, “Devil Is Fine” is now getting the wide release it deserves from the very clever one-man project Zeal & Ardor.

I was pulled into “Devil Is Fine” with the teaser track “Come On Down,” which blew me away with a completely unexpected blend of old African American spiritual music and black metal. Sadly, that may lead to some discontent with listeners expecting the whole album to go that way, and there's a serious issue with the album that needs to be addressed first: that's actually only a small segment of what's on display here.

Several of the tracks don't even remotely go for the soul-meets-extreme style, and in fact have next to no connection to each other on the genre front. What you've got when you add it all up isn't just “eclectic,” or even disjointed, but instead is so wide-ranging that perhaps a phrase like “scatterbrained” would be more appropriate. Don't let that stop you from listening though, even if it is a serious downside to consider.

The title track kicks things off with a song that will very much make you think of the impoverished slaves from America's sad history singing on a chain gang, and with a trap style will likely not be what any metal fan was expecting to hear. The guitars eventually build in the background, and the collision of styles that Zeal & Ardor is playing with finally comes to the forefront. Up next is “In Ashes” and another twist with a drone aesthetic as the pummeling drums repeat in a hypnotic pattern. This one also brings out a recurring pattern of a very kvlt feel to the production with a muted sound.

Up next is “Sacrilegium I,” which is where the album goes off the rails. With nothing even resembling the two prior tracks, this one's an electronic offering with stuttering sound effects and Gregorian chants in the background. It's not metal and it's not pulling from old African American spirituals, so what's it doing here?

Finally we arrive at “Come On Down,” which is easily the high point. While the production is incredibly muted, this is a really unique and engaging merging of two vastly different worlds, and honestly now I'm asking myself why more black metal bands haven't done this before. It's such an obvious connection – Christianity screwed over the pagans in Europe just as it massively screwed over the slaves in early American history. What if those anthems of quiet rebellion sung in the fields had been presented with guitars and screams instead?

“Children's Summon” goes more on the black metal side, while adding in odd time signature changes and power metal keyboards (yeah, you read that right) for a very odd combo. I dig it in theory and its a tune that's staying with me even after the music ends, but I'm not sure the mixture was really pulled off as well as it could have been and in the end it left me feeling like something didn't click.

Further showing off the album's disjointed nature is the instrumental children's lullaby material on “Sacrilegium II.” Besides being completely out of place, its been mixed way, way louder than the rest of the album for no apparent reason. “Blood On The River” then takes us back to the album's basic idea, going more strongly towards the spiritual direction and a strong trap influence with atmospheric black metal in the background to keep it aloft. The chorus part in particular here is utterly killer as the two different styles come together.

“What Is A Killer Like You Gonna Do Here” is again utterly lacking in connection to the surrounding music. There's a funky bass line in the background while a guy talks and snaps his fingers like he's in a smoky jazz lounge. That's literally it. It's an interesting idea I guess, and in another setting it might have been a great interlude, but it has no correlation to anything here and is barely even a song. The album then ends on a weird, dream-like note with the keyboard-driven “Sacrilegium III,” again with no connection to the jazzy music of the previous track or the black metal of the rest of the album.

As the album ends I'm left with a serious conundrum: about half of the offering is baffling and pointless (it's not really clear why the “Sacrligium” trio of songs or “What Is A Killer Like You Gonna Do Here” are even present on the disc), but the other half is something I've never heard before that needs to be covered more extensively in the future. Where does that make “Devil Is Fine” land then? Somewhere in the middle I suppose: there's truly excellent material here that needs to be spread far and wide, even if its marred by a lack of cohesion and some throwaway tracks.

Highs: "Come On Down" is a combo of sounds you've never heard before

Lows: A complete and total lack of focus

Bottom line: Prepare to hear something truly unique and engaging, even if you have to wade through some pointless filler to reach it!

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)