Zeal & Ardor And Blanket Live at Church Leeds, 6th December

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Sml Light High Res Manuel Gagneux Zeal & Ardor, Official Press Picture 2018

It’s not often you set foot in a grade II listed building for a gig. The renovated, and simplistically named, Church, in Leeds stands as a venue as grandiose and bombastic as the Royal Albert Hall, whilst maintaining the intimacy of a scuzzy basement club. Such a verbose Arena is the perfect setting for such expansive music to be performed in, and there’s a salacious air of the sacrilegious wafting around as the mighty crowd awaits the arrival of the headlining band.

Opening the night however was something that deserves praise screamed from the rooftops in its own merit. Blanket [9] played one of the greatest support sets of the year. The band’s expansive sound is a melting pot of Radiohead and Tool with a sprinkling of Arcane Roots, jumping seamlessly between shoegazing, contemplative passages and huge, headbangable riffs. The sparse vocals have a haunting and ethereal quality when they arrive, and the restraint of use gives it such a weighty impact. The sung harmonies are pitch perfect and silkily delivered. All of this is done before a stunning visual backdrop that segues between electronic glitching, hallucinogenic swathes of colour and the bleak, faded glory of the band’s home town, Blackpool. With a whole show built to create an arresting performance, this band have a glittering future ahead, and are one of 2018’s greatest revelations.

After such a stunning performance, there’s cause to worry for Zeal & Ardor [9], but from the opening pulses of Sacrilegium I into the lumbering drawl of In Ashes, all fears are roundly quashed. Mastermind and frontman, Manuel Gagneux, moves around the stage with spectral presence, lending his beautiful, gravelly voice to the elegant self-styled ‘slave-metal’ that the band have created. When rooted to his dual microphone stand, he is a fearsome character, screaming his lungs into oblivion, before gliding around the stage beaming at his cohorts. The bluesy, soulful sections of the music are backed up masterfully by the choral performances of Denis Wagner and Marc Obrist, both of whom have the charisma and vocal ability to carry a show individually. The hellishly heavy moments are supported by Tiziano Volante’s virtuosic guitar playing, Mia Rafaela Dieu’s thunderous bass and a stellar percussive display from Marco Von Allmen. This is most evident on the riff storm, Fire in Motion, and Ship on Fire that is astoundingly played at nearly double pace.

The audience is enraptured for the duration of the far too brief set, bellowing along to the choral refrains of Devil is Fine and Row Row. Circle pits erupt during  Don’t You Dare – almost certainly a first for a former church – and the devil in the detail of Zeal & Ardor’s music reverberates around the room with crystalline precision, blowing away the fervent crowd. The satanic sermon reaches its finale with a stunning blast through of Baphomet, with right hands up (“left hand down”)  piercing the thick layer of sweat hanging in the air. The light show pierces through the haze on stage and bathes the band in devilish reds and necrotic greens, creating a genuinely evil experience. “Hi, we’re Zeal & Ardor. We don’t talk much’ grins Gagneux. Don’t worry, the stellar performance is enough of a statement to capture a thousand words.

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