Kicking off the Unholy Trinity of 2017’s very best is an album so eclectic and enigmatic that, when it saw the light of day in February, it felt like every metalhead on the planet was talking about it.
The debut by the one-man project Zeal & Ardor, Devil Is Fine is one of the most fascinating albums perhaps in the history of metal, fusing the genre with African-American slave music, gospel and the blues to create a truly unique experience. Main man Manuel Gagneux drives the entire (admittedly brief) record with his subdued vocal delivery, patient pacing, visceral percussion, unhallowed backing singing and a slew of more unexpected instruments, including xylophones and pianos.
Devil Is Fine constantly wavers between bluesy melodies and all-out extreme metal in a ceaseless battle, its peaks and valleys of heaviness one of the many things that keep the listener wholly invested in the entire experience. While entries such as “Come on Down” and “Children’s Summons” lean closer to names like Emperor or Dark Tranquillity with distant screams and whisking, technical guitar, the title track and “What Is a Killer Like You Gonna Do Here?” focus more on aura through a slow delivery and folk mainstays like the use of simple acts like clapping and finger-clicking as instrumentation. Top it all off with the instrumental, delectably avant-garde “Sacrilegium” trilogy and you get a metal record as artsy as it is fascinating.