The article originally appeared at Ongoing History of Protest Music.

Zeal & Ardor is the brainchild of Swedish musician Manuel Gagneux. It started as an online project,
where Gagneux sought feedback on blending two musical genres that don’t traditionally go
together. He ultimately paired black metal with spirituals and that led to three studio albums, including a recently released self-titled album.

“Lyrically, it’s a continuation of the alternate history narrative we have going on—what if American slaves had turned to Satan instead of God?” Gagneux said. “‘Where ‘Devil Is Fine’ was about life in captivity and ‘Stranger Fruit’ was about the escape, this record is about the many things that come after—being on the run, clandestine ruminations, and grand plan.”

As in his previous efforts, the lyrics touch upon themes of religious hypocrisy and race relations. Even
though it might be written from the perspective of the African American experience, as a black man in a
predominately white country and music genre, racism is something that Gagneux has routinely dealt with.

One of the album’s more aggressive tracks is “Götterdämmerung.” “This is the title of a movement in a Wagner opera, and Wagner was heavily used by not-so-great people in the ’30s and ’40s in Germany. So I wanted to re-appropriate and reclaim Wagner, even though he himself was a huge dick, too—but dude wrote brilliant music,” Gagneux shared.

Politicians co-opting music for their agenda is a trend. For example, back in the 1980s, Bruce Springsteen spoke up when politicians such as Ronald Reagan tried to adopt “Born in the USA” as a campaign theme (missing the point of the lyrics). During Donald Trump’s presidency, many opposed his use of their music at his rallies. Neil Young in particular composed an open letter voicing his displeasure over Trump using his political protest anthem, “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

Listen to Zeal & Ardor’s “Gotterdämmerung”:

CJ Baker

CJ Baker

CJ Baker is a lifelong music fan and published writer. He recently started a website chronicling the historical developments of protest music: ongoinghistoryofprotestsongs.com, and can be found on Twitter @tunesofprotest