Label: Reflections Records
Well, if this isn’t the most unexpected records of the year, then I don’t know what is. To say that Zeal And Ardor don’t respect convention or genre boundaries is an understatement of biblical proportions. There’s so much going on during the twenty four minutes of Devil Is Fine that should not work, or even be considered, but impossibly, it does work, and results in a total mindfuck of a record. Black metal, old slave spirituals, electronica/IDM, and even modern Middle Eastern-style music are all dominant at different points during the album. Yet throughout, it defies all expectations to not only be a record that works, but one of the more addictive albums released in the year thus far.
One thing to note is that there isn’t really a single style that the album can be said to be built on. Tracks such as “Devil Is Fine” and “In Ashes” draw equally from old slave music and black metal, recalling slaves taken from their homes to toil in fields as much as they do icy winds and snow-covered mountains. Lyrically, the religious nature of both styles is kept, with praises to God and calls for salvation replaced instead by Satanic blasphemy and a sense of nihilism. Meanwhile, the “Sacrilegium” tracks (“I”, “II”, and “III”) are built upon glitch and energetic IDM, taking the album in to unexpected avenues, especially “Sacrilegium I” which includes Middle Eastern chanting and dubstep influences. “Children’s Summon” even combines blissed-out IDM with harsh black metal and orthodox chanting, in some unholy combination of Nobukazu Takemura and Horna. Even the title invokes memories of Nobukazu Takemura’s Child’s View.
It probably all sounds, on paper, like an utter mess, an absolute disaster of unforeseen proportions, the peak of hipster black metal. Whilst I won’t bother touching upon that last point – I don’t know what perspective the music is being approached from, and I place little value upon being “trve” for its own sake – it is remarkable how well the album all flows together, and actually works as an album. Despite the huge variety of sounds on display, the mood and tone is largely consistent – it is an album cloaked in the shadow of death and violence, to the extent that even the gorgeous IDM segments bristle with an undercurrent of danger and concealed darkness.
It’s quite tempting to start analysing Devil Is Fine in much deeper detail, especially in the way that it – perhaps unintentionally – play with the very concept and language of black metal (talk to your friends who aren’t so interested in music about black metal, without explaining the term, and see how many of them think you’re talking about something defined by race). But even taking the album at face-value, and not delving deeply in to any potential symbolism, it’s an absurdly entertaining listen, inspiring the kind of wide-eyed joy that comes when hearing something truly special and unique for the first time. Thankfully, that effect remains after repeated listens. There’s a giddy thrill on the first spin, sure, but there’s also staying power and lasting appeal here that is quite unexpected.
Of course, a lot of people will hate this simply because it exists, for daring to take black metal in to areas that could hardly be less kvlt if they tried. That’s absolutely fine, but I’d recommend that, if you’re the sort of person who gets worked up in to a rage by the likes of Deafheaven or Liturgy, that you stay as far away from this as possible. It’s a glorious, stirring listen, dancing in the ruins of black metal whilst simultaneously embracing its darkness and malice. It shouldn’t be this enjoyable. It shouldn’t work. Hell, it probably shouldn’t even exist. But it does, and I’m bloody glad of that, as few albums – if any – are going to challenge your notions of just what is and isn’t metal this year. The comparison that makes the most sense is Death Grips, and the way they deconstruct hip-hop in to something else entirely, but even that only tells part of the story. Devil Is Fine is one of the most unique albums ever to fall under the broad spectrum of black metal, having more in common with Dødheimsgard’s 666 International than anything being made today. You’ll either love it or hate it, but I can’t help but feel that this is one album that will be impossible to ignore.