Dark Music Review – Devil is Fine
Review Written By Casey Douglass
Imagine this: Django sacrifices a goat on stage while intimidating slave chants roar and screeching guitar riffs burn in the background. Then the rhythmic chain rattling evoking a satanic summoning makes way for the eerily familiar melodies of Norwegian black metal.
What do you get if you cross the spirituals of a slave chain gang and black metal? You get something like Zeal and Ardor’s Devil is Fine, a creation that adopts aspects of each style, makes some creative twists, and then puts them back together again to birth something that is quite brilliant. And I almost missed out on it.
I’d heard some of the info about Zeal and Ardor, checked out a little bit of title track Devil is Fine and decided it didn’t really click with me. In my ignorance however, I didn’t pay attention to the fact that the chain gang spirituals' words had been changed to worship the devil rather than god. It was a few weeks later and a revealing interview read in Metal Hammer that sent me scurrying back to YouTube for another look at the video. I bought the album on my next trip into town, and I have well and truly clicked with it now.
Devil is Fine makes great use of the associated elements of a chain gang, from the distinctive soulful vocals to the clinking of chains and the clapping of hands to add rhythm. From the metal side of the camp, frenetic strumming, tortured notes and the recognisable sound of the classic metal roar are all used to great effect. Come on Down is a track that is a prime example of this. Beginning with the lyric “I can’t see no devil in the field” a few repetitions later, it’s joined by the artfully played notes of an electric guitar and the aforementioned roar, before quietening again and shortly after giving way to a seriously ear-wormy “oooh ooh ooooh” backing vocal. This is something a few tracks on the album do very well, the slow build and release of an audio roller coaster.
Another reason that I found myself warming very quickly to Devil is Fine is that I have an immediate interest in anything that adopts the tone of devil worship, from books set in Hell to other bands (see Ghost). As far as Devil is Fine, the slaves are turning to Satan as an act of turning away from their Christian captors. Manuel Gagneux, the creator of Zeal and Ardor, spent a lot of time researching the occult to get things right in this regard. The artwork on the front features real slave Robert Smalls and the logo over this is the Sigil of Lucifer.
The words used in the lyrics on Devil is Fine just get to me in that sacrilegious way, but none more so than those found in Blood in the River:
(Backed by chains clanking and echoing beat):
“A good god is a dead one,
a good god is the one that brings the fire.”
“A good lord is a dark one.
a good lord is the one that brings the fire.
the riverbed will run red with the blood of the saints and the blood of the holy”.
I mean, holy shit, you’ll find no punches pulled here, and I love it, all added to by the heft of a metal core.
There are other surprises on Devil is Fine such as more electronic-based tracks to break things up, a xylophone/glockenspiel type music box quality to Children’s Summon, and a final track that seems to be the audio equivalent of candy floss, something seemingly light but still hinting at sadness (particularly in the case of real candy floss, when you could have eaten something far more tasty than flippin’ candyfloss).
Devil is Fine is a more than fine album (aha!). It’s not very long, which only left me wanting more, although it does lend itself to easy repeat listening due to it’s brevity. If you like the subject matter and music styles involved, you should can check it out here. You can also check out Come On Down below:
Album Title: Devil is Fine
Artist: Zeal and Ardor
Released: 1 March 2017Label: Radicalis, MVKA Music