Back when I was an undergrad, I came across the term “bricolage” while reading Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style for one of my communication theory classes. Though he was specifically using the term to analyze punk fashion, the term has a broad meaning covering virtually all forms of art. The concept is simple – bricolage is created by the combination of autonomous objects or practices from disparate contexts to form something with new meaning and style. Creativity is at the core of bricolage, and in my view, musicians that take this approach often produce music that’s at the very least interesting and occasionally quite brilliant. All of this pseudo-intellectual rambling is a product of me discovering Zeal and Ardor‘s phenomenal new album Devil is Fine, the project of producer Manuel Gagneux and an excellent example of what bricolage is and why it can produce fantastic results. Frankly, I don’t know what made Gagneux want to combine black metal and black spirituals, but I’m wicked fucking glad he did.
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You might be having the same reaction I did when I first came across Z&A’s Bandcamp – there’s no way that could work. But not only does the juxtaposition of soul rattling hollers and buzzing tremolos work incredibly well together, it feels like a totally natural pairing by the time the record concludes. As implied by the album’s title, a focus on the morbid side of the black spiritual cannon is the main device Gagneux uses to achieve this hellish marriage. We’re not talking uplifting spirituals like “Listen to the Lambs” or “Ev’ry Time I Feel The Spirit” – we’re talking lyrics like “Burn the young boy burn him good /Wash the crimson stains from the field/There’ll be a god among us to let the young ones burn” and “The riverbed will run red with the blood of the saints and the blood of the holy/The riverbed will run red/A good lord is a dead one/The riverbed will run red.” And as rolling kick drums, wretched shrieks and melancholic, melodic black metal around these aching sentiments, it creates a clear visual of the fearful, fire and brimstone elements of spirituality. Throw in a trio of hip-hop, electronic and music box interludes, and you have an album that finds genre boundaries more sacrilegious than skipping in blood-soaked fields while holding Satan’s hand.
And the best part of it all? People are taking notice. Gagneux landed Z&A a slot at next year’s Roadburn Festival, and Bandcamp featured him in a blog post covering noteworthy young black artists pushing the boundaries of experimental music. The attention is well-deserved – the infinite malleability of what black metal can be is in constant need of records like Devil is Fine to reinforce that notion. I honestly can’t foresee a more successful instance of bricolage coming out this year, nor a more forward-thinking black metal record outdoing what Gagneux has achieved here.