Review: Zeal and Ardor – Stranger Fruit (Radicalis, Jun 8)

Zeal and Ardor’s previous album, Devil Is Fine, was an interesting experiment. The unique blend of soulful spiritual and work song inspired vocals with melodic black metal sounds impossible, but the NY-based ensemble pulled it off much better than you’d imagine; it just didn’t result in a tremendously enjoyable album. Stranger Fruit, however, is. It is immediately clear that the stylistic elements are better integrated, whereas on Devil Is Fine they seemed to just be placed next to each other. The songwriting is absolutely incredible, keeping with the shorter durations which works well. “Intro” succeeds in its titular task, melding wordless soulful humming with a metal break that immediately reveals what listeners are in for. “Don’t You Dare,” an early highlight, is a perfect encapsulation of what makes Stranger Fruit so great. The emotion and, erm, zeal of the bluesier parts is continued during the blasting, rather than abandoned, and it results in some of the most exhilarating black metal I have heard in a long time. “Coagula” is another success, again demonstrating the power of the hybrid of styles as throaty syllables are bolstered by palm muted guitar thuds and pounding drums. At 16 tracks, Stranger Fruits still feels too short, but less in a detracting way and more of a holy shit I can’t wait to listen to this again sort of way. I’m truly excited about how great this record is.