Zeal & Ardor: Blackness in Metal
Updated: Apr 6
This past weekend I had the opportunity to see Zeal & Ardor, who is fronted by a biracial Black/Swiss man - Manuel Gagneux. I had planned to go with someone but tickets sold out last minute. I ended up going out for dinner with friends and as we finished eating the owner of the venue messaged me to tell me that my name is on the list and to get my butt down there immediately to catch the set. Knowing I was getting to see a Black person lead the show, a metal show, I was so excited.
I had never heard of this band, heard any of the music, and obviously didn't know the lyrics. But while I was there I could definitely FEEL it - a beautiful mixture of jazz, blues, metal, chants, gospel, and sounds of the American South.
Now.... since I've had a moment to process the rest of the weekend, now digging into the band, it's roots, the inspiration behind the music and the lyrics.. imma say right now.. the majority of you in that room should be ashamed to have even attended, singing along with half these lyrics. I know Manuel himself doesn't believe in things like cultural appropriation or even the depths of what it means when combining the genres he does, despite him creating music dedicated to the Black Lives Matter movement (because he has a connection to the struggle but not necessarily the understanding). But that does not mean that non-Black people are exempt from learning about it and the nuances within Blackness as it relates to ALL Black, African and Caribbean people throughout the diaspora. We are not a monolith. White supremacy, anti-Blackness and colonialism has fucked us up far more than we'd ever like to admit. The experience of Manuel will differ greatly as a biracial person with light skin living in Switzerland compared to that of a dark skin Black person living in North America. Colorism, featurism, anti-Blackness and their distinct impacts are all things people need to get to understand on their "anti-racist journey."
I mean, the band was literally created because someone on the white supremacist website 4chan challenged Manuel to combine black metal with "n****r music," and Manuel accepted it.
I'm happy a Black man gets to travel and make a living doing what he loves. I'm happy people get to experience the art Manuel shares. I'm happy other Black people get to see representation of US in this scene. It was the first time I saw more than 3 Black people at a metal show together in this city (there were 8 of us and, yes, we found each other.)
But I just wonder what non-Black people feel and think about when they sing along with lyrics like "I can't breathe, please don't shoot". What feelings and thoughts come through when non-Black people sing slave songs. What feelings and thoughts arise when non-Black people ain't doing their best for the Black people directly surrounding them, but feel called to sing these songs as if they can relate to them, or as if they're in some form of solidarity.
I'm constantly doing double duty to understand and dismantle the white supremacy within myself as a biracial woman with light skin growing up in Alberta, while so many of you are barely even willing to meet half way in understanding your place in it all. I know it's easier to not have to ever think about any of this because "it's always been this way" or "it is what it is" but what's easier is not always what's best. I just wonder what it takes for people to do better. I just wonder what it takes for people to WANT to do better. I just wonder.
Articles to dive into featuring lead singer Manuel Gagneux:
"Taylor McNallie dedicates her time to seeking racial justice and collective liberation through education and hands-on work with both marginalized communities and allies alike. As the co-creator of Inclusive Canada, she provides education on anti-racism, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness. She is also a member of the Walls Down Collective which provides access to no-barrier resources and care such as Harm Reduction, free food programs and an alternative to local policing."
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