A foggy Slovenian evening, two Finns making noise as if they were five people, spiritual chants and black metal: these are the basic elements for last Monday’s formula, with Zeal & Ardor and Nyos at Orto Bar in Ljubljana. After two dates in our country, this one was the first in Slovenia: the small venue is almost full, proving the impact that Gagneux and his mates are having on the audience with their peculiar offer.
Opening the event is Nyos, a Finnish band that I didn’t even listen to prior to this evening: it was a nice surprise to hear some post-rock, mixed with intricate math elements, by guitarist Tom Brooke and drummer Tuomas Kainulainen. The duo launches themselves in a vortex of guitar loops and swirling drum parts, something that’s surely captivating in a live context but that has to be evaluated on record, since the genre itself is at high monotony risk. After a late start, the two guys are able to catch up and wrap their set on schedule, leaving a nice impression, at least on Yours Truly.
After thirty minutes of light setting and stuff, everyone realizes suddenly how small the stage is for Zeal & Ardor. Founded almost as a joke by Manuel Gagneux, the American artist built a six-piece lineup over time, risking to step on each other’s feet in places like this. Not too bad though, because this translates into an enviable intensity born from the explosive mix of black metal, afroamerican spiritual chants and (on their first record) shameless electronics. Gagneux is sided by two additional and pretty good singers singers, flowing through a thick setlist drawing from “Devil Is Fine“, a loose cannon of experimental stuff, and the following, more mature work, “Stranger Fruit“.
The almost dubstep “Sacrilegium I” leads the way into an almost seamless set, as the frontman talks for just a few seconds to thank the audience. Sheer fury and spiritual solemnity are perfectly balanced among the songs, with Gagneux switching from hellish shrieks to melodic singing, perfectly armonized with Denis Wagner and Marc Obrist. High intensity peaks, with a fully captivated pit, are for example “Blood in the River“, which brings us straight to the old Confederate States, or “Gravedigger’s Chant“, but the whole set is pretty strong: from the avantgarde drifts in “Children’s Summon” to the blackgaze ones in “Built on Ashes“, closing with the explicit esoterism of “Baphomet”.
Very few negative aspects in this evening, related mainly to technical issues: the evocative lighting and the performance didn’t disappoint at all, but on the other hand a few sound problems compromised the first songs, as Gagneux’s scream and guitar were almost completely absent, covered by second guitarist Tiziano Volante. Few space also for bass player Mia Rafaela Dieu, forced to stay in the back, with a few but really heavy notes audible among the general chaos.
We can’t complain, though: the band was evidently satisfied with the warm welcoming, the audience even more satisfied after the show of one of the most original bands in recent times, from which we have great expectations.
Come On Down
Blood in the River
Fire of Motions
Ship on Fire
Built on Ashes
We Can’t Be Found
Don’t You Dare
Devil Is Fine
ZEAL & ARDOR