Even nowadays, when we hit ‘play’ on a metal record, there are certain things we expect by default.
We expect power. We expect guitar. We certainly expect intensity.
While all the above are, to varying degrees, present on Zeal and Ardor’s ‘Devil is Fine’, their delivery here is wholly unorthodox and genuinely perplexing.
More than a simple case of mixing up styles; constant mutation in the bones of this band. Not much is as it seems on ‘Devil is Fine’.
The baby of Swiss musician Manuel Gagneux, the album beings with a soulful, chain-gang chant. Complete with the clink of hammers on rocks, it offers up a powerful image of sweating men under the sun, but really, the only thing that remains consistent from this point onwards is the lyrical focus on the devil in man.
But what a chant the track offers up. Full of passion and persecution, it’s a genuine surprise to find Gagneux has penned all this stuff himself.
The lyrics, subversive as they are, are the only giveaway that this music isn’t harvested from some 1910 wax cylinder from Mississippi. What he achieves in the chanted vocals are powerful enough to deserve attention on their own merit.
Where the album moves after this is far more open to interpretation.
Quickly snapping between shimmering soundscapes, well-constructed digital beats and yes, some black metal soundscapes, the record undergoes on a rapid, almost chaotic series of transformations.
While jarring, the transitions are pretty clearly defined.
Gagneux cherry picks from a range of genres as long as your arm. ‘Sacrilegium’ is pretty much straight up EDM, all deep bass beat and flickering sample complete with a juicy-sounding synth breakout. The lounging ‘What Is a Killer…’ even brings to mind Leonard Cohen at his most lugubrious.
Maybe it’s the curmudgeon in this writer, but it’s on the most outright metal track, ‘Children’s Summon’, the band truly channel a sound that is so Gothenburg, so typically melodic death metal, that it truly underlines that mischievous nature of the record.
It’s flamboyant, but oddly so. A sudden break to solemn, pounding toms and a voice intoning ‘Sathanas…!’ halfway through really brings home the total over-the-topness of it.
Debating how ‘genuine’ a record can be is a sinkhole, but it’s something every listener to this will have to contend with when listening to ‘Devil is Fine’.
It’s a Swiss guy in 2017 making music that sounds like a Deep South chain gang pushed through a mixer with a post-BM band plus the hip soundtrack to a contemporary indie movie. Does such a mix individually cheapen the impact of each element?
The almost saccharine nature of ‘Children’s Summon’ indicates that he’s jacking these trades – so how much soul can it actually achieve?
All in all, the man deserves a round of applause for both the breadth of his composition, and that amazing vocal performance that runs through the record.
However, whether there’s much in here to convince siloed fans of each genre he touches on is another question. There’s no definitive answer to that. As a result, ‘Devil is Fine’ can come across as a kind of weird simulacrum, a fan-fiction that’s in danger of spreading itself a little too thin.
Who’s to put a limit on imagination and combinations though?
As record, ‘Devil is Fine’ doesn’t sound like much out there. It’s well worth a listen – but be prepared, it may repel as much as it titillates.
3.8 / 5 – Lorcan Archer ::: 23/02/17