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(Live Review) ZEAL & ARDOR + SYLVAINE + IMPERIAL TRIUMPH - Bottom Lounge Chicago, Sept 19/22

Reviewed by Mark McQueen

Tonight’s show took us to The Bottom Lounge, a nice venue off Lake Street in Chicago. Due to a misprint on the flyer, doors didn’t open until 7:00pm (instead of 6:00pm). This allowed your reviewer opportunity to grab some dinner from the very decent sized menu Bottom Lounge had available.

So, while the Beard munched down on some Nashville Hot Chicken and a Delirium Tremens Belgian Brew, Little Johnny availed himself of the venues many pinball machines. The beer was good, and the Chicken was appropriately hot (via the breading, not the sauce), just like it is supposed to be made.

Finally, at 7:00, the doors opened, and the Beard noticed the line was significant for a Monday night show. The venue filled quickly, and the Beard grabbed a spot just left of the soundboard in the General Admission room. I like to basically hear what the sound guy is hearing, while Johnny prefers as close to stage as he can get. This allows us a couple perspectives to review from.

First up this evening is ...


(A take on Black Metal merged with Jazz)

Jonny was initially confused at the concept, but I told him he’d probably enjoy them. He did seem pleased at the masks they wore, looking like some sort of Game of Thrones warriors. Once they got into the full black-metal-with-background-screaming it got pretty intense. The jazz sounds were mostly of discordant horns filtered around the double bass drum clamoring. Lyrics were of course impossible to distinguish, so I didn’t even try. Still, I always enjoy to some extent bands that take a chance on pushing a traditional genre or sub-genre in a new way.

I found it a unique take on regular black metal.



(A merger of nature and death metal out of Norway)

From soft and gentle, to a howling banshee, Sylvaine singer Kathrine Shepard and her band craft a sound that rips peaceful tranquility asunder and exposes the blood of her musical depths. Screaming her merged mercy and discontent to a receptive audience, Sylvaine used rhythmic drumming and bass to drive a wedge of sound (like a sharpened axe into fresh wood) through the crowded room.

Between her songs she sounded as pretty as a Norwegian maid with her soft melodic voice laced with crowd appreciation and humor, but then it was back to business as they ripped into another walk through a gilded forest wood, only to become swept away by a raging inferno of anger.

Sylvaine is the peace AND the fury of nature put to sound.

This could grow on you and The Beard did purchase a CD for further exploration.

The Beard is granting a very solid 88/100. Good stuff.


(Headliners - Swiss Band that combines black metal with plantation spirituals)

Little Johnny was curious and asked about the odd fusion of black metal and spirituals that Zeal & Ardor does. I told him my thoughts were, if YOU were uprooted from your natural culture, kidnapped, transported to a place where your will was subjugated and you were forced into labor, beaten, raped, had to watch your family members sold off like cattle and knew that THIS was your life now and forever, what would be “your” reaction? Would you embrace the “God” these oppressors prayed to? The God that kept THEM safe, kept THEM in power? Or, would you embrace the God that would destroy them? That, I believe is the essence of Zeal and Ardor's music.

Johnny listened and looked decidedly more introspective than usual. Finally, he said “You know when I was growing up back in THAT place, (I knew he meant the orphanage), there were ALWAYS people telling me things were for my own good, or that they had my best interest at heart.” Johnny’s little eyes darkened, and he scowled. “Most of the time they really didn’t. I think I’m going to understand these guys.” He walked away into the crowd towards the stage.

Zeal played an intense 16-song set with a 3-song encore. Many hard hitting numbers like “Church Burns”, “Gravediggers Chant”, “Death to the Holy” and “The Devil is fine” poured out like burning holy water on the chanting crowd, but, for me, the number that always exemplifies what they do is the chanting repetitive anthem “Blood in the River” with its two oft repeated declarations: “A Good God is a Dead One. A good God is the one that brings the Fire” and “The riverbed will run red with the Blood of the Saints and the Blood of the Holy”.

The band all stood in a line during most of the numbers effecting an almost military stance and symbolizing a unity to cause. The lights both bathed them in dark reds and crashed and spun with exploding flashes of bright white. For Zeal, the battle is on and there is NO surrender. Offstage singer Manuel Gagneux is quite personable and even funny in a self-effacing manner. In some ways they have found the balance of delivering their message this way, but not being consumed by it. Zeal strikes a measured balance of peace and anger within tyranny and what they do is truly unique to them.

After the set, Johnny returned. He wasn’t his usual crazy chaos laden self. He looked at me quite sternly and said, “Yeah, I get them.” The Beard nodded and said, “How about I buy you an IPA for the road?” He looked up from under the brim of that ever present cap, cracked the tiniest of smiles and said, “cheap as you are Beard, I better take you up on it.” As we walked towards the bar, Johnny looked back at the Zeal and Ardor backdrop stating, “Those guys ARE saying something.” Good call Johnny.

The Beard awards Zeal and Ardor a very strong 94/100.

Horns up


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