On Monday October 3rd, under a cloud covered sky, three groups of astoundingly unique musicians gathered at a small venue in the heart of Phoenix, Arizona. The Crescent Ballroom is a restaurant and bar by day, and at night, transforms into a lively music venue that boasts some killer lineups. This evening however I was there to photograph some of the most unique bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Zeal & Ardor had brought their North American Tour to this glittering metropolis, and with them came progressive metal band Imperial Triumphant, and black metal band Sylvaine.
Imperial Triumphant was the first to take the stage. The trio donned golden masks bearing statuesque expressions. Each mask bore a different set of spikes or horns atop their heads. This band came out and provided the crowd with exactly what they came there for, a show. They interacted with the crowd, they sprayed us with champagne, and enlightened us with their brand of progressive downtempo metal. Imperial Triumphant is a band you’ll not soon forget, there is so much about their music, their stage presence, and their performance, that will stick with you. They left the stage, and the crowd wanting more, but we had two more bands waiting to get up there and I was ready to see what they had to bring us.
The next to take the stage was an artist by the name of Sylvaine. Now, Sylvaine is typically a one-woman multi-instrumentalist, but of course on tour it would be extremely impractical to have one person playing multiple instruments at once, so naturally there is a group of musicians to accompany her on the road. Her sound is brilliantly haunting. Songs ranging from deep and heavy, to mystical and ethereal, this artist really knows how to bring a gravity to music I personally have never quite experienced. Sylvaine had this crowd completely entranced in her performance. I felt like an Elvish Queen had somehow escaped the pages of Tolkien’s novels to bless us with her music. She held that crowds undivided attention from beginning to end, and when it was over it was like a beautiful spell had been broken and the world became just a little bit darker once more.
Finally, we came to the main event. Zeal & Ardor is the brainchild of genre blending genius, Manuel Gagneux. This Swiss American multi-instrumentalist has taken on the seemingly impossible task of black metal and mixing it up with some old southern chain-gang music. This artist hits hard with their anti-establishment geared lyrics, their soulful melodies, heavy metal riffs, and twist of modern satanism. When Zeal & Ardor took the stage Manuel announced that two of their members were sick and wouldn’t be able to play that night. Regardless of them being “short staffed” on stage, their sound was mind blowing.
While I do enjoy smaller venues for the level of intimacy that they foster between the crowd and the artist, I also love the big stage feeling. To me, artists on a stage should seem “larger than life”. Obviously, that seems like it would be a difficult task in a place like this, but Zeal & Ardor made it sound like they were playing the arena down the street. Every song was so perfect. I was blown away at their precision. Their energy was contagious and flowed freely between them and the crowd. They played all their biggest hits including “Death to the Holy”, “Church Burns”, “Devil is Fine”, and “Baphomet”. This tour maybe over but they’ll be coming back much sooner than you think! Keep your eyes peeled because I wholeheartedly believe it’s only going to be a matter of time before Zeal & Ardor is headlining massive arena shows. If you have yet to listen to them, I highly suggest listening to their newest, self-titled album. You won’t be disappointed!