Zeal & Ardor’s Manuel Gagneux is a man of culture. Phoning in from a chalet in the swiss alps, where he planned to lose himself in a chain of mountains to find inspiration for more avant garde brutality, Gagneux was ready to talk through his high-concept and cerebral new album.
So, you can imagine this writers palms getting sweaty when attempting to describe the expansive mechnications behind Zeal & Ardor’s world-building writing process as something as low concept, and cultureless as “more of a vibe thing?”
It won’t be so hard then to imagine Gagneux literally laughing at the question.
“I’m laughing because it probably is.” He reassures, “It is pretty much a vibe thing.”
Released Friday, 11th February, Zeal & Ardor is an epic journey through an amphoric doom. Deconstructing the pillars of heavy music and using them to build his own temple, Zeal & Ardor have used this moment to present fresh ideas for the genre – and it’s not the first time. However it is the first time Gagneux decided to plant a flag in the soundscape by presenting them eponymously; “I think also, because we put so much effort into it, that I can confidently say that this is the best that we can do right now.” Gagneux says. of the decision. “So, if nothing else, it is what we are right now.”
The self-titled album follows on from older sibling, 2020’s EP Wake Of The Nation, which for 17 unflinching minutes blasts the spreading rot of white supremacy. Zeal & Ardor differs in that where Wake Of A Nation had a laser-guided focal point, it does not.
“That’s the weird thing. I like both processes and both results,” Gagneux says of writing music literally compared to abstractly.
“I just feel more at home with a more obscure and subtle thing because it’s just harder to write. It’s more painful. And you give yourself into it. When I write about blood, fire, forest, river, whatever the fuck; I can get away with it because I know no one really does associate that with me when they meet me. Whereas, if I do these very specific political statements, that’s something that they can be certain of that I actually carry with me…I guess it’s cowardice that brings me back to the more obscure approach.”
“I just learned, with that EP, that people don’t really read subtext if they don’t want to. That’s why it is so good. If you read the comments it’s like, “Oh, you guys got political?” I’m like, “What have you been listening to?” But the thing is, if you water down the medicine, or sugar down the medicine, and people do discover what you meant with it, it’s much more impactful. Because it was more of a collaborative effort than just a didactic preacher’s action.”
That isn’t to say Zeal & Ardor is a listless journey. While Gagneux doesn’t want to be too specific about his craft: “Every interpretation is valid.” He has added a dash of intent. Within the darkest reachest of the album, you’ll find the blistering ‘Gotterdammerung’, a homage to it’s composer, Wagner – though not one he would entirely woud approve of, given the whole “pro-Nazi” stance.
“Wagner was a terrible human being.” Gagneux says of ‘Gotterdammerung’. “His music, though, was un-reputably great. And just trying to re-appropriate that aspect of it – it signifies the old gods are dead, but we get to build the new gods. Re-contextualizing it and re-appropriating it and claiming it, it’s a fun tool. In the 1930s, people used his music for certain things. Now, we can use it for others.”
“There’s this one song called ‘Immersion’ that sounds like that YouTube channel Lofi Hiphop Beats to Relax and Study to. All of the sudden, it goes into this blast beat thing. It’s a nice little whiplash moment that I hope people will react to.”
Ultimately, Gagneux’s writing is more about what he gets out of it than others – even if that thing is a reaction from others. Rather than whip and chain songs to do his bidding, he lets the song take the reins. “You don’t work music. You play it.” He elaborates.
“It has to be playful, for me at least; a playful process. And if it isn’t, it’s not a great product for me. I actually trip myself up when I have happy accidents because it is a playful thing. You don’t work music. You play it. And it has to be a playful, for me at least, a playful process.”
It’s hard to think of a place more fun and playful than the awe-inspiring landscape of the Swiss alps, and seeing them from the comfort of a Chalet even more so. Gagneux might already be working on what’s next, with the dust yet to settle on his most recent effort, but rest assured, there’s no rush to process Zeal & Ardor, the album after all, Gagneux has realistic expectations of this writing expedition “‘l just probably end up eating a lot of cheese and drink a lot of beer alone in the cold.”