Under the influence of ambivalence - Zeal  & Ardor's Manuel Gagneux pens a powerful piece one year after 'Wake Of A Nation'

Under the influence of ambivalence - Zeal & Ardor's Manuel Gagneux pens a powerful piece one year after 'Wake Of A Nation'

- By Ramon Gonzales

On the eve of Juneteenth, Gagneux takes stock of the year following their socially-charged EP and assesses whether repercussions have equated to any real reform.

Regarded as one of extreme music's most intriguing, innovative forces, Zeal & Ardor have asserted a level of artistry that has truly elevated the genre.

The collective's two full-length albums in 2016's Devil Is Fine and 2018's Stranger Fruit presented a masterful fusion of nuanced, caustic instrumental extremity, and an articulate lyrical narrative that boasted the same immersive effect. The crux of Zeal & Ardor is that the band is far from a casual listening experience, and that is part of the overall design.

In 2020 however, the band released a creative tangent, a much more reactionary and a departure from their much more premeditated MO. Unveiling 'Wake of A Nation,' the band's creative architect in Manuel Gagneux, offered a direct response to the sociality upheaval that was unfolding at the time. The world was watching as protests, in the middle of a global pandemic, were gathering thousands in masse across the world.

The bold cover art of an inverted crucifix as two police nightsticks provided a clear indication that this was unlike any other Zeal & Ardor offering prior. Though the musical arrangements showcased the band's definitive signature, the context of songs added a element of volatility, urgency that made the EP a proper document of the era - a chronicle of upheaval in the face of such intolerable social injustices.

A year later, though the dust has settled, the conversations that arose from such a tumultuous time remain at the forefront of everyone's mind. Beginning to emerge from a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and one of America's most turbulent electoral seasons in history, ills like systematic injustice, social inequality, and a climate of division haven't gone away.

One year after 'Wake of A Nation,' and on the eve of Juneteenth, Gagneux again picks up his pen to reflect and assess how despite the vehement calls for change, things still remain much of the same.

There is this thing called a 'thought terminating cliché' or a 'semantic stop-sign'.

It's when rather than continue a conversation you make a statement that effectively can't be answered.It's used for phrases like "it is what it is" or "agree to disagree" or even "here we go again...". Basically ending a thought with a bumper sticker.

I personally hate these phrases, because it's just a fake out. People say it because either they're too lazy to think any further, or because they're annoyed with the other person in the convo. That being said I have gotten some impressive mileage out of them in the last couple of months.

It felt like everyone talked to wanted to talk about one of the same three topics. And I'm sure you felt somewhat similar. People resorted to a sort of shorthand. If George Floyd is mentioned on the web you can be sure to find "Fentanyl Floyd" somewhere in the comments. It's one of those 'thought terminating clichés' I'm talking about.

But it's a weird one for me.

Because, disregarding race for a moment, in essence it states: if someone is a drug user they deserve to die. This is what is so disconcerting to me. Even if the statement makes no sense by itself it's used because it's just easier than the alternative. Forming an own opinion without regurgitating someone's snappy one liner.

Since the 1860's Juneteenth is celebrated and as of 2021 it's an actual federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of black people in the US. There's a unique thing with the States and that is that the US is thirsty for traditions. Even something as 'young' as the Superbowl has family traditions and rituals related to it. It makes me wonder what traditions might pop up in the future. There is the tradition of drinking red drinks symbolizing the blood spilt by our ancestors. I needn't explain how that is metal as fuck. I'm seriously looking forward for more!

A year ago we released our EP 'Wake of a Nation'. It was a weird one for me. I wrote a song called 'I Can't Breathe' for Eric Garner who also uttered these same last words back in 2014. A week after writing it George Floyd was covered in all media around the world. Because I had been writing that song thinking of it as a past event I was deeply disturbed. I normally have thick skin, but this experience gave me weird reactions. I couldn't fall asleep at night thinking I felt my heart stop pumping.

It took me a moment to realize that these were reactions to what was going on. I didn't sleep for 3 days straight until I finally just collapsed. Rather than put it in with our next album I felt I should isolate the songs pertaining to those matters and release them as an EP. Our songs are usually vague and at least partially based in fiction and it felt right to have an EP with all the pieces that didn't adhere to that scheme. All in all it felt like I was anticipating something weird. Well something weird happened.

A guy is sent to jail for killing a dude by kneeling on his neck and somehow this is a big deal.

Well, it is what it is.

  • Manuel Gagneux / Zeal & Ardor

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