Genre Genesis // Zeal & Ardor – “Tuskegee”

Genre Genesis is our monthly column dedicated to the hardworking and endlessly patient partners of Heavy Blog editors and writers, who are, shall we say, not nearly as invested in

4 years ago

Genre Genesis is our monthly column dedicated to the hardworking and endlessly patient partners of Heavy Blog editors and writers, who are, shall we say, not nearly as invested in heavier music as we tend to be. We offer them a track from an artist we’re currently enjoying and ask them for both their reactions and to take their best guess at what “genre” of heavy music it falls into. It’s all in good fun and a necessary reminder to not take ourselves too seriously.

I don’t think a single track has received as cold a reception from this group as last month’s entry for Enslaved‘s “Urjotun.” I have been told since that it probably wasn’t the best track from the album to pick, so I take some of the responsibility for that, but I was definitely surprised by the response as this column has featured way more out-there and extreme material.

As a peace offering for this month I decided to go a route I thought would receive much more positive responses. Zeal & Ardor has been one of the nicer success stories out of metal over the past decade, as Manuel Gagneux’s solo black spirituals meets black metal project has blossomed into a full-on band and one of the more creatively-fascinating groups out there. I already wrote recently about how their latest Wake of a Nation EP is the best thing he’s done, so I was especially eager to see the group’s reactions to this one.


Zeal & Ardor’s “Tuskegee” is a standout in their latest EP, Wake of a Nation. It’s hard to find succinct words to share since Z&A are one of my most-listened-to bands over the last few years.

The title and lyrics allude to the horrors of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment conducted without consent on African American men in Alabama from the 1930s – 1970s. Judging by the comment section I’m not alone in hearing about this from Googling the title. The song and EP blend narratives from the ongoing social justice movement with black metal.

The instrumentation is powerful and sets the tone but the mix of vocal styles from singing to chanting to growling is what sticks with me the most. I love the simple opening riff and how quickly the song builds up and gets more complex. It’s heavy, but melodic. The layers of backing and main vocals always find a way to shine through amidst the wall of sound and chaos. To me, they’re one of the most commanding live bands for this reason.

We’ve had the fortune of seeing them in a small dingy venue in Toronto and a large open-air festival in Bristol and each time they fill the space with a raw, unrestrained energy. Can’t wait to see this song performed live!

Genre: Black (History) Metal


The first thing I do when listening to these songs is look up the lyrics, as I find that most of the time (for me) they’re usually one of the only redeeming qualities of a metal song. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you just can’t get the same song topics and lyrical composition in mainstream music that you do with metal music. When I saw the title of this month’s pick, I knew the name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t remember why. Tuskegee isn’t really a place you hear of frequently. Of course, when I finally looked up what the song was named after, I could remember sitting in one of my biology classes in college and hearing the horror story of the Tuskegee Syphilis study. There have been a lot of terrifyingly unethical experiments, but this one is really up there. For once I feel that the angry screams of metal vocalists could be justified for conveying this story.

On an entirely unrelated note, the overall sound of this song made me envision Scott strutting down his high school hallway, blasting it in his headphones loud enough for passersby to hear (which he has told me he was apt to do). The underlying guitar riff is actually quite catchy and I liked the choice to juxtapose the screaming with slower, calmer singing. And, to be honest, I think the only music style befitting of a song about the Tuskegee Syphilis study could be metal.

Genre: Racist and Unethical People Can Kick Rocks Barefoot Metal


Now this I can get behind.  We know at this point that the harsh scream-y vocals are not my thing, but I’m on board for this anger directed at the white supremacist police state.  Nick gave us the video to watch, which features a simply rendered pair of cop batons joined together in a satanic upside down cross.  Forcing us to stare at this symbol of violence bound up in a rejection of the Christian ideal – I’m here for it is all I’m saying.

Simple chords behind the chaos of the percussive anger are very effective paired with pointed lyrics.  I won’t be downloading the album (still just not my thing), but I have a lot of respect for Zeal and Ardor.  Nick has told me about them before (circa Stranger Fruit, I think) and 2020 is clearly a powerful time for them to continue their messaging in this medium, particularly given the relatively white audience they have to speak directly to.

Genre: Social Justice Core

Nick Cusworth

Published 4 years ago