You’d have to have had your head buried so far in the sand that you could feel the warmth of the Earth’s molten core to not have seen the increased coverage of news regarding police brutality the misinformation surrounding black history. Enter Zeal & Ardor, who’s new EP Wake of a Nation brings the aforementioned subjects further into the light, with their unique blend of gospel, blues and soul, melodic death and black metal.
Following on from 2018’s Stranger Fruit, Wake of A Nation is a raw, politically charged slab that comes at an imperative moment, one that sees us meandering our way through what feels like one of the most turbulent times in living memory. The world is waking up, people are starting to listen and address issues that have been suppressed or simply left out of the history books. Without hesitation or delay the EP opener ‘Vigil’ is a haunting tribute to the murder of George Floyd by US police earlier this year. Brimming with atmosphere, the chilling, gospel vocals make this sound like more of a prayer rather than an opening tack to a metal record. Lyrically, it may stand as one of the most poignant and vital offerings from this band, with "I can't breathe, it's a cellphone please // don't shoot, I need to get home // I'm on my knees begging please" recalling the tragic story and weave it into a lullaby of the utmost urgency.
Similarly, ‘At The Seams’ continues the theme with it’s eerie calm, that is until a wall of sound is thrown up with such enormity, it would make the current US President blush. Restoring the dichotomy of soul and metal once more, frontman Manuel Gagneux’s choice to combine these massively divisive music genres not only showcases his creativity, but also proves to be a hell of a gutsy move. Whilst the death and black metal subcultures are notorious, not only for their pretentious and rather ironically, 'holier than thou attitudes', neither are strangers to the occasional, dubious right-wing tendencies. But with their fellow artists making a stand against the abhorrent NSBM movement, Zeal & Ardour are taking back the genre, utilising the incendiary power of the genre to highlight the gross injustices within society.
Whilst tracks ‘Tuskegee’ and ‘Trust No One’ continue to marry together the sounds that have made Zeal & Ardor infamous, this release does tend to lean more on the gospel elements and less on the metal influences, though rest assured it’s not a complete change of direction. For a group of songs with such heavy subject matter, it would be all too easy to join the never ending ‘who can scream the loudest’ competition, in order to get one’s point across. By choosing to write and perform them in a more traditional style adds whole new layers of sincerity and maturity.
To give the group further credit where it’s due, Wake of a Nation is self-released, which at a time when the arts are struggling, just goes to show his dedication to the cause as well as maintaining full creative control. Even more importantly, and it’s hard to believe it would be purely coincidental, the EP’s release comes just ahead of the US presidential election, which has caused a stir worldwide and opened a lot of people’s eyes to the topics displayed on this record. Institutional racism, oppression and police brutality have all had their ugly reality brought forward and Zeal & Ardor are not only fighting the good fight, but also ensuring our raised awareness so that we too, can stand on the right side of history.
Wake Of A Nation is out now independently.