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Salvation Delayed: Zeal & Ardor’s “Gravedigger’s Chant”

zeal and ardor

In lesser hands, Zeal & Ardor would be little more than a curiosity. However, the project has proven to have legs that have helped it outlast its oft-repeated forum banter origin. Started as a songwriting exercise by multi-instrumentalist Manuel Gageaux, Zeal & Ardor turned heads by finding the sweet spot between spirituals and black metal on their debut EP Devil Is Fine. The novelty of that combination alone will make people click play once, but quality songwriting and a commanding vocal performance from Gagneux have propelled Zeal & Ardor out of the oddity section.

Now, having earned his audience’s attention, Gagneux has released “Gravedigger’s Chant,” the first single from Zeal & Ardor’s forthcoming Stranger Fruit. The song was preceded by a slow-burning teaser video, and Gagneux has cast that same eye toward anticipation and delayed gratification on “Gravedigger’s Chant.” The song holds off on the tremolo picking and digitized blast beats that backed up his throaty singing on Devil Is Fine and sticks to instrumentation that would be appropriate for a modern roots-rock group. The song moves steadily through a modified blues form against sparse guitar, stabs of organ, and a locked-in rhythm section.

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I don’t doubt for a second that Gagneux knows what he’s doing here. By holding off on the genre trickery that generated the buzz around Zeal & Ardor, the band is building excitement for the moment when all hell breaks loose while also proving that they can deliver compelling material without a eye-catching headline. So settle down if you’re worried that Gagneux and company are backing down from the livewire now. It is unlikely that a band willing to up the ante on one of the most haunting songs in American history for their album title is going to skimp on shocking sounds. In the meantime, keep the morbidity alive in “Gravedigger’s Chant”‘s lyrics. “God have mercy,” the band intones before Gagneux corrects them, “God don’t have mercy for you.” Regardless of the form their music takes, Zeal & Ardor are here to sing the sermon of your damnation.

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