Live: Zeal & Ardor / Lake Malice @ Electric Brixton

By Ellie Odurny

With original support Heriot unfortunately having to withdraw from the last couple of dates of Zeal & Ardor’s UK tour, Brighton’s Lake Malice have stepped in to open the show at Electric Brixton this evening. With a capacity ten times that of The Black Heart in Camden – where Lake Malice recently played – it’s quite the step up, but they take to the stage with an air of enthusiastic confidence.

Penned as an alt-metal duo, Lake Malice are joined by a live bassist and drummer tonight, which adds a depth to their sound that might have been lacking had they relied on backing tracks alone. Despite having a limited number of songs to showcase, their set tonight is anything but lacking, with powerful melodies and thumping beats whipping up quite a storm with the early crowd. The venue isn’t full, so there’s space for a raucous pit, and when the hardcore fans in the middle aren’t a mess of flailing limbs, they’re captivated by the catchy licks and versatile vocals being blasted from the stage. With an eclectic mix of metal, pop, electro and punk influences, Lake Malice’s energy is infectious and with a new single release imminent, their short but lively set cements the band as one to watch.

After a fairly lengthy intermission soundtracked by the kind of zen-like music you might expect to hear at a spiritual retreat, Zeal & Ardor take to the stage and launch straight into ‘Church Burns’ from their 2022 self-titled album. The familiar drone of work-song chant that harks back to the beginnings of this genre-smashing experiment breaks into blues-drenched rock, which in turn morphs seamlessly into the black metal screech and contrasting soulful clean vocals of ‘Götterdämmerung’.

The opening tracks having set the scene nicely, front man Manuel Gagneux mentions that the band are missing both backing vocalists due to illness, but faced with the choice of cancelling or continuing without them, decided to go ahead with the tour anyway. When asked if they’re happy with this decision, the crowd’s reaction to this statement is perhaps not as enthusiastic as hoped, Gagneux’s response a simple “I’ll take that as a tentative yes”.

Zeal & Ardor set straight back to work proving their merit as a four-piece, with crushingly heavy drums, thundering bass, soaring riffs and stunning vocal variety a running theme across the entire set. A small but ferocious pit go wild for the blackened metal injections in ‘Row Row’ and ‘Blood in the River’ with the rest of the crowd captivated by the brilliant combination of soulful blues and extreme metal. At times, the relatively static and upright figure of Gagneux front and centre is flanked on either side by extreme lunging and sporadic movements, the visual juxtaposition somehow mirroring the sonic contrast of the music.

Half an hour into the set the pit has grown substantially, with the frantic ‘Run’ and visceral screams on ‘We Can’t Be Found’ commanding attention and showing just how heavy this band can go. There is a noticeable lack of camera phones thrusted into the air, which seems to add to the collective sense of a shared experience, something that can often feel like a rarity at gigs nowadays. Thankfully the golden rule of the mosh pit seems to be adhered to most of the time, with Gagneux candidly reminding everyone during a moment of mid-set calm: “If someone falls down you pick them up. If you don’t you’re a piece of shit”.

The band continue to display phenomenal musicianship with ridiculous blast beats on ‘Feed the Machine’ and devastating breakdowns on ‘Death to the Holy’ and ‘Trust No One’. The flawless transition on ‘Erase’ moves from subtle guitar and gentle vocals into a brutal metal meltdown and back again without missing a beat. The delicate melody seems to cleanse the darkness of the metal discord that filled the air moments before. There’s an art to mixing genres and when it’s done this well you have to stop for a moment to appreciate the skill that went into writing and performing these tracks. There are singalong sections sandwiched by screeching wails that somehow flow in a way that is so organic and yet so unnatural at the same time, creating beauty in the space where these genres meet, unexpected yet cohesive.

Closing the main set, ‘Devil is Fine’ has the entire venue belting out their best pentatonic blues runs before the first beat has even landed. After a very short wait, the band return, Gagneux in a typical moment of unpretentious realism noting “It’s a Sunday, we’ve all got places to be”. The lighting desk have their work cut out for the encore numbers, the stage awash with red backlights and strobes flashing in impressive time with the drums. Finisher ‘Baphomet’ has the crowd joining in one last time for the refrain until the band depart in a frenzied climax of instrumental vigour.

Where there times during the evening when the full pelt of their harmonies might have been elevated with additional live vocals? Of course. Did it detract from the overall power of the performance? Absolutely not. It’s might be a cliché, but there really is no other band quite like Zeal & Ardor.