Zeal & Ardor released one of the more beguiling releases of 2017 with Devil Is Fine; a project helmed by creator Manuel Gagneux and blending avant-garde black metal with African spiritual chants which Gagneux says was born of the notion: "What if American slaves had embraced Satan instead of Jesus?" Follow up album Stranger Fruit – released earlier last month - is a wholly more organic beast than Devil Is Fine, with the project adding a full band and embarking on taking the ambitious ethos of Zeal & Ardor into the live realm while further exploring the concept of occultism, following your own spiritual path and of course: the devil within.
“It’s kind of an expansion of it all.” Says Gagneux of Stranger Fruit and how it connects with its predecessor. “With Devil Is Fine I used a lot of elements but I didn’t give any context to it. I kind of wanted to clarify that a little bit, not by alienating any listener, but by including as much as I could and in the hopes of sharing one unifying emotion and …that sounds fucking pretentious…” he breaks off with a good-natured sigh.
And there is plenty left open to interpretation, with references to the Goetia, Yoruba, and obscure occult literature it’s more like a musical research paper, albeit a fascinating one.
“I think my interpretation or my meaning what I put out isn’t the definite answer. If you take something from it and it means something to you that’s just as valid as my intention. My parents, they raised me as an atheist - and they were both atheists - but they said look there’s all these religions out there and some people really adhere to them and it means a lot to them but read these books and if something speaks to you then why not research it further. Of course, I was really drawn to the fucking dark stuff and I was really like ‘whoa demons wow!’ As a teenage boy that’s really fodder for your imagination and I think that’s where it stems from…my parents. My parents made me a Satanist! There you go.”
Stranger Fruit is also arguably heavier than Devil Is Fine and sees Gagneux collaborating with producer Kurt Ballou (Converge, Kvelertak, Nails) to perfection.
“I’m sure it has to do with Kurt’s mix and no short part to Marco Von Allmen who plays live drums with us.” Gagneux explains of the shift. “He actually played the drums on the record also and that is a huge factor in regard to the heaviness of the record…These were all friends that I’ve known for a couple of years they all just happen to be brilliant musicians and they all happened to have time for this silly endeavour. I was really stressing out about the translation from the record to live and how that even work and they got what it was all about and it was such a huge relief and I can’t rave enough about them because they immediately got the essence of it and they snapped onto it and even actually accentuated it. They expanded the idea and I’m very happy that they did! We gained a lot of intensity because for me to perform it alone it would just be my energy on stage if there are six people on stage and they all have the exact same idea and same emotion on hand to deliverer with huge vehemence and I think that’s what the live show is about.”