It’s pretty safe to say that Zeal & Ardor blew people away with their debut album back in 2016. It’s rare that you hear a completely original sound, but their mixture of old African American Spiritual inspired songs with lashings of black metal savagery caused many people to take notice. Now they are back with another assortment of blues, gospel and extreme metal fused into a fine collection of atmospheric offerings on “Stranger Fruit.”
The first half of the album is more reminiscent of their excellent debut. The songs build in the same way and go from the slow clean vocals and gradually increase in noise and threat until they hit a peak which even though not the most extreme noise out there, has a different kind of visceral effect in the setting of the rest of the song. There are tracks which have a more upbeat tempo, such as ‘Row Row’ which together with the sombre and dark lyrics create a weird and wonderful world that you step into for the duration of the album.
The second half of the album is a bit different. There are a couple more instrumentals (‘The Fool’ & ‘Solve’), this time synth heavy and the type of thing you would expect to hear from the likes of Ghost. That said, because of the variety of the bands influences, it never feels out of place, just that the band are taking you on a new and different journey. There is the more experimental and progressive technical ‘We Can’t Be Found’ and the huge riffs of ‘Coagula’, before the bleak but beautiful ‘Built On Ashes’. Sixteen songs may seem like a lot of material, but when you listen to it as one complete album, their really isn’t anything you would consider cutting from it.
My main worry was that the first album was so different, that the novelty may have worn off by the second album. No worries there as the band follow roughly the same format, but produce another collection of stunning songs. What started off as a one-man act has developed into a fully formed touring band and this new album marks another progression. The question now is where do the band go from here. Two stunning albums are going to be hard to live up to, but there isn’t a doubt in my mind that the next one could be even more special.