Zeal & Ardor at Gorilla: Live Review
Words: Phil Weller | Photos: Anthony Firmin
Zeal & Ardor are a special band; an unbridled conglomeration of unique and contrasting musical flavours, it seems as each day passes the band is making their juxtaposition even more convincing and even more cohesive. An avant-garde, avarice entanglement of metal, blues, soul, trip-hop and more, their genre-fusing creation has taken the musical world by storm. Tonight in Manchester they stun us all and prove their worth of one of this generation's most inventive acts. Rest assured that their next Manchester show will be in a far larger venue.
Blackpool band Blanket had opened with an enormous and deeply atmospheric shoe-gazing sound. With beautifully shot video clips projected behind them, they swam through a reverb-soaked set full of stacked harmonies, luscious, lulling vocals and steady yet oceanic rhythms. Setting up shop at the crossroads between post-rock and progressive alt-rock, with elements of Radiohead, Deftones, film scores and more festooned within their broad ranging music, what they lack in visual excitement and watchability - their movement is limited and reserved, although their intimate stage confines dictate a lot of that - they more than make up for with their lucid soundscapes and brooding tranquillity. This is a 'close your eyes and zone out' kinda band. Their sound is crystal clear, loud and engulfing; it's a set which will do their reputation no harm.
What came next, however, was close to a religious experience. In truth, it's hard to put Zeal & Ardor's spellbinding majesty into words, its something best experienced not merely imagined, for what ensued across their set was a unique, uncompromising and untouchable experience. With two backing vocalists flanking their frontman and cult leader, Manuel Gagneux, their performance ranging from devilish chorale embellishments and rasping growls, and guitarist Tiziano Volante's extended range fattening the mix where necessary, their live sound is much more animalistic and aggressive than on record yet still their slick soulfulness and polish remains.
Gravedigger's Chant is haunting, dynamic and packed with drama, Servants virile, nasty and impassioned. Sweat drips from Gagneux from the off and as their stormy light show flickers, pulses and explodes behind them, cutting chilling silhouettes of the band, it is clear that they were leaving nothing behind on their first visit to our city. You Aint Coming Back injects a hint of soul music, Gagneux's velvet vocals magnetic as the music builds and builds towards a black metal infused crescendo that, tantalisingly, they never quite reach. Such patience and intelligence in their songwriting only leaves you wanting more for when their true bursts of aggression come barraging in, such as the inspired Come On Down and the hammering Ship On Fire, they thump through the venue like a freight train.
Row Row, an aural gang bang of genres, energy and villainous intentions, with its slave trade informed lyrics, is simply exceptional while cuts from their debut album are played with a renewed vigour; they play out with more invention and gravity showing this is a band fastidiously improving, with much bigger sights on their mind and already within their grasp.
They end with Baphomet, a one-off track they released in conjunction with Adult Swim and one that is possessed with violence and a tender, troubled heart. Such a juxtaposition, with its stuttering, chugging guitar work and smooth and spiritual yet shadowy verses sounds almost apocalyptic while also bringing forth a huge crowd sing along. Power and prestige drips, just like the sweat from their creator, off of the stage and just as quickly as they came, they're gone. Only rapturous applause remains in their wake and already Manchester cannot wait to have one of metal's most individualistic talents back.
In Zeal & Ardor, the future of metal is in safe, forward-thinking hands.