Artist: Zeal and Ardor
Album: Wake of a Nation
Label: Self Released
Release Date: 23/10/2020
Country: United States
Anyone who knows me well, knows how much I love this band and their music. Not only do they make some of the most unique music of recent years, but they’re solid musicians that can back their studio work on the stage (something I can confirm from experience).
For anyone who doesn’t know who Zeal and Ardor are, the band hail from New York and play a unique blend of black metal, blues, gospel and soul music, also drawing elements from other areas such as folk, electronica and a genre known as spirituals (music that originated from African slaves in the Unites States that was used to express and cope with the struggles of slavery, it would influence gospel and blues music). These influences work in tandem with the band’s lyrical themes of slavery and black suffering in the Americas, as well as their focus on the occult.
The band was founded by Manuel Gagneux who came up with the idea to combine these clashing styles of music after a racist remark on 4Chan. Their first album was actually a solo project of his, with him responsible for everything on the release. However following this release he brought on a full roster, and now handles lead vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, synthesizer and programming. The rest of the band is now Denis Wagner (backing vocals), Marc Obrist (backing vocals), Tiziano Volante (rhythm guitar, lead guitar), Mia Rafaela Dieu (bass) and Marco Von Allmen (drums). However for this particular release, it happened to be a passion project of frontman and founding member Manuel Gagneux which he explained in a fantastic interview with Apple Music, where he broke th ealbum down track by track.
The album’s cover art and title immediately give the impression that it’s politically charged. In a way that’s true and in another way it’s not. While the EP does cover topics that are currently considered polotocally contentious, personally I don’t believe that being disgusted, angry and frustrated by the ongoing and unwarranted killing of people in the black community is vaguely political, its just the response of any decent human with even the slightest sense of empathy or compassion. The band posted a status recently discussing the album and stated:
“Wake of a Nation’’s intent and context should be obvious. I like to revel in ambiguity and in room for interpretation. This is not the case here. These 6 songs are a knee jerk reaction to what has happened to my fellow people in the last months. Originally I was set to record an album scheduled to come out next year. As these songs were written due to the horrendous events that instilled them I decided to release them as soon as possible. Using the rich heritage and culture as a part of my musical identity it felt like cowardice to sit by and continue with my routine as if nothing happened. This record is for Michael Brown, Eric Garner, George Floyd and the countless untold and nameless killed. It is for the brave souls willing to take a stand and ready to risk their own wellbeing so that others may have theirs intact.” I have nothing to add to that statement and that’s all I have to say regarding the context of this EP, so now we can move onto the music.
The album opens with Vigil, which is a truly moving track with a soulful energy. There’s a real beauty to the track despite how upsetting the lyrics are. The piano on the track adds a great level of atmosphere and really compliments Manuel’s (as always) powerful vocals. The man has some serious pipes and for me that has always been one of the big draw cards for the band. This is a great way to start the release and immediately sets the tone for the rest of the EP.
Next up we have Tuskegee which completely shifts gears into black metal. This is a raw and blistering track, hitting hard, particularly following the opener, which was a smart decision of track ordering. We get some fantastic raw vocals here, paired with aggressive guitar and drum work, as well as some other added electronica elements. As is standard with Zeal and Ardor, this harshness is broken up with powerful clean vocal segments.
Track 3 At the Seams starts off with a clean section and then transitions into a harsher guitar segment, but the vocals remain clean despite this. While the song has plenty of harsh instrumentals to it, the vocals throughout remain clean, overall making for a relatively catchy track.
Track 4 I Can’t Breathe is a blend of noise, audio clips and soul music. Despite only being 1:17 in length its a powerful track with a lot of impact to it.
Track 5 ins interesting, it starts with what almost sounds like a hip hop beat behind it, but then becomes very heavy, very fast. We get some great clean vocals with mirrored group vocals. We get a lot happening on this track, with segments that almost feel like doom, others that are in the black metal vein and others that are very much blues and soul based. Overall, this track is very much on the heavier side though.
Track 6, the final song on the EP Wake of a Nation has an interesting clap driven melody to it. There’s some heavy reverb to it that adds a heavy and dramatic atmosphere. The vocals are the cleanest on the album and the lyrics and melody that they’re used in tandem with give them an usual sound. This is a very unusual track, it’s a little hard to explain its sound simply.
Overall, this is a moving piece of music with some really interesting elements. Would I say that it’s my favourite from the project? No, I wouldn’t, as much as I enjoyed it, it just didn’t have the same raw and powerful energy that their previous releases had. having said that, this release was created as a reaction to current events and as such had a very different vibe to their usual music and was extremely impactful with its message and overall themes. As far as standalone albums go it was a solid release and from any other band I would have been very impressed by it. However, compared to the masterpieces that Devil is Fine and Strange Fruit were, it just doesn’t reach the ridiculously high bar that they had set. I still highly recommend giving it a listen.
Check out the full EP below: