Live Review – Zeal and Ardor at The Underworld, London (20/04/2017)

Zeal and Ardor are taking the music scene by storm. I don’t think I have ever personally witnessed such a meteoric rise as I am here. From GBHBL reviewing the single Come On Down just 3 months ago to the official record label release of the album, Devil is Fine a short time later. This one man project has garnered so much attention that the project has turned into a strong selling album and a huge tour. Magazine articles, interviews and sell out shows everywhere they go, so early in a career is quite something. Even more so when your music is a version of black metal.

For those who don’t know, perhaps those who live in caves, Zeal and Ardor is the creation of Manuel Gagneux who is, well, a genius. Taking chain gang vocals, as sung by slaves and mixing it with a more traditional Scandinavian Black Metal sound,Gagneux may well have created the most unique sound in metal in years.

Zeal and Ardor

It isn’t all perfect though. The album is short with 9 tracks measuring just 25 minutes. That album is really good but has a fault. Well 3 of them actually. Sacrilegium I, II and III. Three pieces of instrumental that are really just short blocks of unnecessary noise and synth.

The album, short of them would have been an EP and would have been a 9 or 10 out of 10. With them though, it is diluted heavily.

So, with all the hype I am very interested and unsure of what to expect from a Live show. A headline set with 25 minutes of music? Surely with such little music Sacrilegium will unfortunately have to be played? Would it be a metal crowd seeing as even hipsters and rock fans are trying to claim Zeal as their own? Will there be a load of synth? Will there be a band or just backing tracks? If it is a metal crowd, what do we do through the bluesy soul sections?

We metallers know how to let loose through the black metal sections but will we all just stand there looking uncomfortable though the slave chant, blues music?

So many questions, all of which were answered in minutes.

Arriving at the venue, which is sold out, there is quite a buzz of energy and excitement going around. Support acts Pryapisme and Combineharvester have done a good job because the floor is already full and bouncing.

Zeal and Ardor

As Zeal prepare to come on down it is nice to see Manuel on stage setting up his own equipment with what we soon found out was his complete band. He has his hood up but the crowd recognise him and with 15 minutes to go before he comes on, they are already roaring their approval. As the lights dim, Sacrilegium I, the heavier of the three, starts playing in the background.

Complete darkness, the silhouettes of the band on stage and the eerie sounds of Sacrilegium set the scene well. A single thump repeated thump on a drum sends out a brief spotlight over the crowd. It feels very professional and draws you in. Lights come on and the band jump straight into In Ashes. It sounds huge and heavy.

There is a full band there with backing singers filling holes to allow Manuel to breathe and you instantly realise he answers to all our questions. This is going to be heavy. The crowd are metal fans. The band are hyped and energetic. I imagine a lone hipster may have quietly slipped out of the gig with a single tear running down his cheek as he reported back to hipster HQ to say “They aren’t ours, Zeal and Ardor are legitimately black metal”.

Servants is played and the crowd are being whipped into a frenzy but when Come On Down comes on, the venue explodes with appreciation. Manuel, and his band, are note for note perfect. The whole crowd sings along and we get a brief but violent pit as the vocals hit the high and powerful black metal screams.

Zeal and Ardor

Another question gets answered quickly too as we see that the headline set is possible because Zeal already have a plethora of new material. In case anyone was worried, I can confirm that all the new material is in the vein of Devil Is Fine and Come On Down. Not a synth in sight. Not a Sacrilegium to be seen.

Tracks called We Never Fall and the bluesy Row Row keep us all feeling blessed to be here. A few songs get extended by the band. They chuck in some extra heavy metal riffing and leads, just adding to the metal flavour. Another track, Cut Me is debuted and again it sounds bloody brilliant. Blood in the River has everyone singing along and really showcases the talented singing abilities of Manuel and his bandmates.

Children’s Summon is a popular one and again the crowd turns from excited to frenzied. The volume seems to have been turned higher, the crowd roars approval and the place is on the verge of a meltdown when Manuel thanks the crowd. The lights go off and the sounds of Sacrilegium play again as the band leave the stage.

Like the old days though, the crowd are having none of it and roar and scream as they demand more. Luckily, we get that encore and it is perfect.

Starting with a new song called Don’t You Dare which is brilliant. It may well be my favourite Zeal track so far and I cannot wait to get my hands on it. The final song of the night comes next. The instruments quieten, a grateful looking Manuel looks up from his mic and says “Little one gotta heed my warning” as he bursts into Devil is Fine. At this point the crowd can no longer contain themselves. The place erupts. People are holding each other, everyone is singing. It is simply emotional and perfect. It is almost indescribable what I am witnessing here.

Some context here, this is only their third ever proper show!

Zeal and Ardor

As the show closes, Manuel puts his face into his hands and appears to be emotionally shaken and crying as he thanks the crowd. The roar of approval back is deafening and goes on long after the band have left the stage. Manuel may be thanking us but it is the crowd who are grateful. This was a special, special show. This band are going to continue their meteoric rise and deservedly so. All doubts were answered and smashed to smithereens.

We will never see Zeal and Ardor at a venue this small again. We are very lucky. This gig was faultless from the band. The venue, not so much. A sold out Underworld sounds fantastic but is a nightmare to move around in and get a decent viewing position. Manuel will learn a bit of crowd interaction as he gains experience. He looked nervous and spoke quietly when he did address the crowd but all of that just added to what was a special, special night.

Devil is Fine is out now and if you haven’t listened to it, you must. Feel free to skip Sacrilegium or at least know they are not true reflections of the band when you hear them. Zeal and Ardor have already moved up another level on their rise. They are now confirmed to be supporting Prophets of Rage at Brixton Academy so if you would like to check them out, pick up tickets from here.

Check out Zeal and Ardor on Facebook and Twitter to get on board the Zeal train – don’t miss out.

Zeal and Ardor
  • The Final Score - 9.5/10

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