Album review: Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit
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It’s barely been a year since the lauded upstarts Zeal & Ardor released their full-length debut, Devil Is Fine. An album so good that it cracked the list of my favourite albums of 2017, Devil Is Fine was a genre-bending masterwork, which singlehandedly united two seemingly incompatible genres: extreme metal and African-American spiritual music. The end result was a 25-minute game-changer which stunned again and again as it juxtaposed ominous, harmonised melodies and lamenting soul with Satanic yelps and dissonant guitar shredding. Living up to both its title and its modus operandi of “encourag[ing] the listener to dig a little deeper and find their own meaning”, Stranger Fruit is a successor that is bigger, better, more cohesive, more driven, more diverse, more evil, more enigmatic and more melodic than its creators’ unhallowed debut. On their sophomore disc, Zeal & Ardor expand upon the seemingly unexpandable, injecting every moment with a tight-knit yet adventurous ferocity. Notable instantly is Zeal & Ardor’s addition of a complete backing band to its ranks for Stranger Fruit, while Devil Is Fine was a firm one-man project. As a result, this record truly leaps off of the vinyl that it was printed onto with a rigorous fire and expansive tone that captivates both the ear and the spirit. The sheer precision and deep-knit layering present on such songs as ‘Row, Row’ and ‘You Ain’t Coming Back’ is wondrous, packing each entry with a plethora of heavenly undercurrents that continually beckon the listener to give Stranger Fruit just one more spin, out of fear that they may have missed a subliminal slice of instrumental brilliance.
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