Metal, and its subgenres, is full of diverse sounds, viewpoints and artists. Metal is all about rebellion, pain, and power making it an internationally resonant genre giving hope and a sense of strength to headbangers all over the world.
About three years ago, a Swiss-American artist named Manuel Gagneux, the mind behind Birdmask, created a new type of metal that has been considered quite controversial by combining Black Metal with African-American slave spirituals. The band is called Zeal and Ardor, and it gives us an idea of what slave music may have sounded like had they rebelled against the Christianity fed to them and favored the character of Satan instead.
In an interview with Noisey, Gagneux explains that he used to ask users of a site called 4Chan to name two genres that he would then combine into one song in about 30 minutes. One day he recieved the suggestion to combine Black Metal and what one 4chan user referred to as “n**ger music.” Instead of giving the racist troll the angry reaction they wanted, Gagneux decided it would be better to go ahead and turn it into something awesome, thus Zeal and Ardor was born.
Some songs have a bluesy feel to them, similar to that of Robert Johnson, who also sang of deals with the devil and hell hounds. Gagneux can switch from the soulful deep vocals of the slave spirituals to heavy screaming and growls essential in black metal. Gagneux admits the he is not a satanist, or religious at all for that matter, rather he is taking on a character while performing, something he says all artists do.
Something about the mashup really intrigued Gagneux. In an interview with Revolver Magazine, Gagneux explained:
Firstly, the black metal aspect of it and how the Norwegian people reacted to the Christianity imposed upon them. Secondly, it struck me as odd that American slaves adopted the beliefs of their oppressors and masters in their very personal music. If they sung the spirituals truly for themselves, it’s hard to believe that they incorporated Christianity into it. So [embracing Satan] seemed like an interesting form of rebellion, at least in my head.
There have been critics who have accused Gagneux of cultural appropriation of both the spirituals and black metal. Gagneux, who is black and swiss, thinks these people are being a little ridiculous in their assumptions and claims if he were confined to music invented by his ethnicity he would not be allowed to use the circle of fifths much less metal. He believes if you are making a sincere effort to create something artistic and interesting then appropriation is not an issue.
Despite the handful of nay-sayers, Zeal and Ardor has recieved an unexpected amount of attention, even landing an opening gig for supergroup Prophets of Rage. Will Zeal and Ardor be the pioneers of a powerful new genre or will they remain the the sole representatives of this truly unique sound?