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Antiracist Aesthetics of Evil: The Sonic Fiction of Zeal & Ardor

This rhetorical reading of Zeal & Ardor's 2022 self-titled album was developed during a seminar on rhetorical criticism in Fall 2023. In the first half, I cover theories of sound, genre, and metal to establish a critical framework. In the second half, I describe Zeal & Ardor's sonic-rhetorical negotiation of race in extreme metal.


The affordances of digital music consumption and social media have accelerated the fragmentation of culture into a plurality of increasingly niche communities, simultaneously facilitating the automatic capture and assimilation of these subcultural discourses into a hegemonic music industry. Despite offering a rich site for studying the intersection of symbolic and material musical discourses, rhetorical scholarship has yet to seriously engage with metal music. While speculating on the reasons for this conspicuous neglect is beyond the scope of this essay, in the following analysis I hope to demonstrate that extreme metal represents a vernacular discourse worthy of rhetorical critique. Ono & Sloop (1995) helped to orient scholarship toward marginal discourses where community and identity are constructed beyond and against hegemonic discourse. They suggest that vernacular discourses have the potential to contest, appropriate, and/or reproduce in microcosm the codes of hegemonic discourse, and argue that communication scholarship should attend to how local communities construct culture from the bottom up.

Sociological readings of metal music have similarly positioned it as simultaneously a transgressive negation of hegemonic norms and an affirmation of alternative subcultural meanings and identities (Hjelm, Kahn-Harris, & LeVine, 2012). Following Gunn’s (2012) suggestion that “genre criticism in general is only critically useful or interesting when examining an object or ‘text’ that does not faithfully subscribe to generic norms” (p. 370), I am interested in the avant-garde metal band Zeal & Ardor for how they exploit and subvert their audience’s expectations of extreme metal codes and the violent history of Norwegian black metal. By conducting a sonic-rhetorical analysis of Zeal & Ardor’s self-titled 2022 album, I hope to advance rhetorical scholarship by exploring the undertheorized genre of metal. This involves attending to the materiality of sound (its loudness, its speed, its density, its circulation) as well as its capacity to signify through language and other symbolic modes like genre and myth. At the same time, I take up the scholarly imperative to discuss how racial identity is negotiated in a genre torn between post-racial impulses and high-profile instances of racial violence.

Following a review of the relevant literature on sound’s affective and representational dimensions, I begin my analysis by synthesizing existing literature on metal music in order to theorize the rhetoric of extreme metal. In the final section, I discuss how Zeal & Ardor communicates their message about the overlaps and divergences in form and function between black music and black metal, as well as how their heuristic genre play multiplies agency and invites the listener to draw further conclusions about the history of race in metal music and contemporary forms of resistance. I argue that Zeal & Ardor appropriates the generic codes of black folk music and extreme metal to rewrite the history of both, reclaiming key codes associated with black metal and creating space for black and anti-racist expressions of cathartic evil.

Affect and Genre in Popular Music

Music’s visceral affects and diffuse effects make it a troubling artifact for rhetorical criticism (Rickert, 2006). Analysis of popular music has long been restricted to lyrics, images, and other paratext, with rhetorical scholars lacking the tools and vocabulary to approach the amorphous and ephemeral sonic object. During the first two decades of the 21st century, works by scholars like Thomas Rickert (2013) and Greg Goodale (2011) provoked a more thorough consideration of sound in rhetorical studies, developing tools for both symbolic and material sonic analysis (see Gunn, Goodale, Hall, & Eberly, 2013).

These sonic interventions have helped to center the discourse on the affective power of music, with its suasive potential to interrupt rational thinking, configure group identity, and resonate through bodies. Church (2017) argues against a tendency to read the influence of music as primarily emotional. His analysis of glitch music points to the affective power of music as a preconscious physical vibrational force, “[creating] the suasory conditions for the body to be moved” (p. 326). Ceraso (2014) has observed that sound is “a multimodal event that involves the synesthetic convergence of sight, sound, and touch” (p. 104). Gallagher, Rosenfeld, and I (2022) further suggest that the multimodal materiality of sound offers unique affordances for situating listeners within spatial and historical contexts, as well as for prompting an immediate physical response. In his reading of Sgt. Pepper, Hatch (2021) suggests that the Beatles’ landmark 1967 album multiplies agency in both directions: the array of production decisions and accidents disperse agency among various people and technologies, while the audience is invited to make sense of the album and enthymemetically construct meaning. He argues that popular music invites and demands a multimodal analysis to account for the full experience of the listener. The audience of an album not only feels the music and hears the lyrics, but also often sees the album artwork and is likely to be aware of relevant cultural codes, events, lineages, and trajectories.

Genre is a key construct that shapes the reception of popular music. Since the 19th century, genre labels and generic critique have been under frequent attack from artists as well as academics who see these labels as reductive, encouraging a narrow symbolic interpretation within preset schemata. Joshua Gunn lucidly articulates this tension in music and film, suggesting that – despite the romantic protests of many artists – genre discourse allows audiences to make sense of a media artifact by rendering affective intensity into symbolic language. Writing on popular music, he suggests that genre is constructed through the repetition of a set of preferred adjectives and canonical artists that together represent some shared aesthetic trajectory (1999). This categorizing impulse is both pragmatic and inevitable, allowing audiences to make sense of music – to “listen” rather than to simply “hear” – by putting it in conversation with other musical artifacts. His psychoanalytic approach to film further develops this notion, suggesting that genre is a linguistic coding of abstract form that allows audiences to translate raw affect into emotion through repetition (2012). According to Gunn, genre “emerges at the point at which the symbolic meets the body” (p. 369), and can be understood as an assemblage of affective intensities and culturally conditioned meanings, producing patterns of satisfaction, suspension, or subversion of expectations in pursuit of this horizon.

Metal Music and the Aesthetics of Evil

Metal emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a musical extension of psychedelic or progressive rock. By 1969, the youth counterculture became disillusioned with the hippie movement after it failed to effect the political change they had imagined. Psychedelic rock artists like King Crimson and Black Sabbath traded peace, love, and freedom for bitter irony and nihilism, and “[t]he master word of the 1960s, LOVE, was negated by its binary opposite, EVIL” (Weinstein, 2000, p. 18). As Weinstein points out, this new, post-hippie music did not argue against authority through liberating celebration, nonviolent protest, or thoughtful reflection. The rhetoric of metal is blasphemy, pastiche, and acceleration. It employs aggressive noise and disturbing, provocative lyrics and paratext to hold a mirror to the evils of society on one hand, and on the other to enact this mirror as a form of social empowerment, a rhetorical strategy I refer to as metal’s aesthetics of evil.

Extreme Metal

Metal is a sonically diverse genre constituted by a dense web of subgenres, which are themselves contingently defined by a set of canonical artists (either founders or exemplars), a loose set of musical characteristics, and common paratextual elements (Hillier, 2020). Metal audiences who immerse themselves in the music and culture are likely to be familiar with this oral tradition of genre classification and attuned to the nuanced stylistic differences between subgenres. The most fundamental generic distinction can be drawn between heavy metal and extreme metal, the former sharing more musical characteristics with hard rock and blues and the latter consisting of a plurality of subgenres that reject blues influence and generally develop toward an affective horizon of intensity that artist/theorist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (2010) calls the haptic void – a state characterized by embodied tension, aggression, catharsis, and sense of incompleteness or hunger.

Few popular audiences are so invested in the production and maintenance of genre discourse as those of metal music, where knowledge of subgenre taxonomies, histories, genealogies, and mythologies is an important marker of subcultural identity and clout within the vernacular community (Smialek, 2015). The dense subgeneric network that codes extreme metal may be understood as a counterbalance to the small significance placed on representational and emotional content. The sound of metal is characterized by the pursuit of extreme material affect: extreme volume; extreme speed or slowness (as well as instances that collapse the distinction between the two); lyrics that often forgo traditional meaning in favor of evoking a mood (often necessitated by extreme vocal delivery which obscures the words themselves); and forms of dance that forgo patterned movement in favor of spontaneous expressions of violence in the mosh pit. These two contradictory impulses – on one hand, the rejection of representational meaning in favor of raw sonic materiality; on the other, obsessive generic coding according to historical and genealogical concerns – produce a tension in metal music between universal form and local expression (Wallach, Berger, & Greene, 2012). By stripping away signification through the physical force of amplified sound and the mosh pit, race, gender, sexuality, class, and other identity markers are at least superficially discarded in metal’s striving toward a universal affective body. At the same time, metal and extreme metal in particular tend to circulate within limited geographical or virtual spaces, where locality and identity become the infrastructure for navigating subcultural symbolic regimes and the channels through which experience is materialized. According to Foster (2011), subaltern voices use metal as a mode of civic engagement and a site of community at the local level, as well as “a way to transcend national ideologies and geographic locations in the formation of cosmopolitan publics” (p. 321). As a vernacular discourse, then, metal allows marginalized groups to construct identities that transcend their immediate situation but that are rooted and invested in geographical place and localized culture.

Much of extreme metal (specifically uptempo subgenres like speed/thrash metal, grindcore, and black metal) emerged from the ideological and musical exchange between hardcore punk and heavy metal, two distinct genre traditions with overlap in form and function. Aside from the shared musical drive toward extremeness in a rock band format, the two movements shared similar counter-hegemonic attitudes and confrontational lyrics and imagery, including an interest in icons of evil. Nazi imagery in particular has been a popular target for appropriation, serving as the ultimate symbol of evil for metal bands and an instantly provocative fashion accessory for punk artists (Hebdige, 1979). In addition, like many strains of extreme metal, punk rock has self-consciously attempted to purge the influence of the blues in order to arrive at some pure clinical essence of rock music. For many, this attempt to move beyond the appropriation of black artists was motivated by a sense of guilt over the music industry’s systematic exploitation of black music (Savage, 1991). However, the combination of efforts to invent an original, non-appropriative white genre of popular music and efforts to contest social norms through controversial iconography have created channels for the legitimate expression of white supremacy.

Black Metal

The sound and style of contemporary “second wave” black metal was codified by a group of musicians based in Oslo, Norway during roughly 1990-1992, which included members of bands such as Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, and Emperor. In pursuit of the haptic void, black metal incorporates heavily distorted and tremolo-picked “chainsaw” guitars, rapid double-kick drumming in general and blast beats in particular, and vocal techniques that represent the human voice at its limits (e.g. screaming, shrieking, whispering, or growling). The result approaches white noise – a disorienting and sublime wall of sound that is both pure intensity and undifferentiated void.

Discussing the function of loudness in rock and metal, Heller (2015) describes how, although sound is a process of vibration in a physical medium, it is phenomenologically exterior to the body. Even before being subjected to conscious interpretation, sounds are decoded for distance and location, and so appear to be the effect of an outside agent: the sound object. At high volumes, however, pressure waves in the air are felt tactilely in the body, interrupting the distinction between exterior and interior. Intense sound further generates contradictions between auditory, tactile, proprioceptive, and visual sense perceptions that compel the listener to orient themselves in their environment (Jasen, 2016). This sonic defamiliarization, or ostranenie (Shklovsky, 1917), heightens the significance of alternative cues like language and visuals and lends these things additional rhetorical force, such as in the bursting forth of religious expression in the culturally mediated experience of worship music.

Inspired by “first wave” black metal (a musically diverse group of artists like Venom, Bathory, and Mercyful Fate who were grouped together in retrospect for their use of satanic imagery), Norwegian black metal artists engaged in the aesthetics of evil by adopting extremist religious and political views as a rejection of hegemonic social norms and a signal of dedication to their extreme music. Prominent artists associated with the scene engaged in serial church burnings, murders, and hate crimes. Most notoriously, Varg Vikernes (who recorded under the name Burzum) endorsed a combination of paganism and esoteric Naziism and, in 1994, was convicted of church arson and the murder of Mayhem guitarist Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth. The Norwegian black metal scene has been heavily studied and mythologized within metal communities, where it is often regarded with profound ambivalence for its contiguity of aesthetic innovation and moral reprehensibility.

Zeal & Ardor

In 2013, Swiss-American chamber pop musician Manuel Gagneux posted to the anonymous online forum 4chan asking users for arbitrary genres to combine as a songwriting exercise. One user wrote “black metal,” and another wrote “nigger music.” Not deterred by the casual racism that thrives in anonymity, Gagneaux (a mixed-race man born to a black American mother and a white Swiss father) was intrigued by the theoretical connections that might be drawn between the extreme genre of black metal and various modes of black musical expression. Gagneux began producing music under the project Zeal & Ardor, an avant-garde metal band whose style juxtaposes black metal with African-American spirituals, work songs, blues, jazz, and other black music from the American south. This genre clash plays out musically in different ways across the band’s three full-length albums and combines with lyrics and paratextual elements to construct a speculative sonic history where enslaved black people rejected Christianity and worshipped satan. Building an argument based on the semiotic play between the generic codes of blues/spirituals and extreme metal, Zeal & Ardor rewrites racial histories in order to highlight parallels and divergences between the experiences of black Americans throughout history and the countercultural values and aesthetics of metal. These musical and mythological arguments work rhetorically to subvert racist narratives in black metal, to open space for black expressions of cathartic evil in a predominantly white subculture, and to provoke reflection on historical and contemporary political violence and forms of resistance.

Revisionist History

As an ethnically mixed metal head, [“Devil is Fine”] speaks to me. Growing up I had an immediate attention to metal music and as I got older and learned more about my African American heritage, I fell in love with Negro Spiritual. [Zeal & Ardor’s] sound is somehow the thing my ears have been begging for since the first time I heard [System of a Down].

—Moze, comment on the video ZEAL & ARDOR - Devil is Fine (Official Video).

Zeal & Ardor’s debut album Devil is Fine was released independently in 2016, then rereleased on MVKA records in March 2017. The album was self-produced using lo-fi recording methods to emulate both the gritty DIY sound of second-wave black metal and the primitive wax cylinder recording of black folk songs, as documented by folk musicologist John Lomax in segregated prisons in the 1930s. This incorporation of gospel, blues, jazz, and other folk music from black traditions mirrors folk metal, viking metal, and similar efforts by white European artists to assert their ethnic identity using the format of extreme metal. Stranger Fruit (2018) further refines the production and style and continues the alternate history narrative. Now, satanic spirituals and work songs are largely replaced by similarly subversive slave-escape songs, like the ones sung by Mose Platt in the Lomax Prison Recordings.

Zeal & Ardor’s self-titled 2022 album represents their most comprehensive musical statement, updating the alternate history narrative to the 20th and 21st centuries. The album artwork depicts two sculpted black hands against a flat white background, illuminated but casting no shadow against the digital void. Each hand holds out two fingers – the right hand (on the viewer’s left) is pointed up and the left hand is pointed down in imitation of Baphomet, the occult icon of duality and balance. “Z E A L & A R D O R” is printed at the top of the image and again upside down at the bottom. The title track “Zeal & Ardor” opens the album with a heavy reverberating synth that drones like a foghorn. The beat drops into a heavy industrial instrumental before vocalist Manual Gagneux enters. His voice is low and heavy, tinged with a bluesy drawl and supported with overdubbed harmony and call-and-response vocals. Antiphony, or call-and-response, made its way into African-American folk music from African oratory traditions. This type of polyvocality has become culturally associated with the sacred communal tradition of the spiritual (Stone, 2015). Despite evoking religious music, the foreboding and hostile lyrics instead hint at occult rituals and an unspecified revolution. The song sets up the album’s fundamental dualities: spiritual and blasphemous, aggressive and melodic, nihilistic and empowering, industrial and soulful.

The second track and the album’s lead single, “Run,” is driven by frantic tom grooves and claustrophobic production and arrangement. The first six seconds consist of guttural whispers that are distorted, stereo-panned, and digitally glitched out in a bastardization of folk polyvocality, briefly interrupted by a calm and determined command to “run.” Along with “Zeal & Ardor,” “Run” establishes the character, attitude, and vocal style of the album’s narrator as Gagneux alternately delivers portentous warnings (or possibly threats) in a husky blues inflection and screams profane anti-theist proclamations in a black metal shriek. These warnings and the command to “run” construct two separate and opposed audiences: to the singer’s allies and potential allies, be they runaway slaves or satanic terrorists, the lyrics serve as an alarm or a rallying call; to their would-be captors and oppressors, the lyrics serve as a threat of violence. The listener is therefore encouraged to identify with the narrator both as part of a subversive community and in opposition to a dominant but vulnerable ruling class.

The blues ballad “Golden Liar” further develops the character of the album’s narrator. Gagneux employs a series of negative enthymemes to paint himself as a depraved pariah, opening with the spoken lines “If luck follows the wicked / I’m a lucky man / If hope is for the true / Then I'm hopeless, my friend.” Following this pattern throughout the verses, the narrator positions himself in opposition to hegemonic constructions of truth and wickedness, honesty and love, bravery and freedom. In a callback to a similar statement from “Zeal & Ardor,” Gagneux sings “Thirteen years I've been waiting here / I feel my life is over / Got no will to live / Steady now, steady now,” establishing a continuity between the two songs and drawing a theoretical connection between the sorrowful lyricism of blues and introspective strains of black metal (categorized in contrast to satanic black metal as “depressive suicidal black metal,” or DSBM). Like much of the album, the vocals here are clip distorted as if recorded on old or low-quality audio equipment, another sonic marker shared by both early recordings of blues musicians and the low-fidelity DIY recordings of the Norwegian black metal scene. An additional recurring trope throughout the band’s discography – the percussive banging of chains – is introduced partway through to evoke a singing chain gang. The sound of chains, like the sound of a cheap speaker and second-hand recording gear, acts as a sign of the material limitations of one’s environment. Appropriating these sonic signifiers of destitution into music involves a reevaluation of aesthetic discourse, asserting the creative potential and artistic value of the sound of one’s literal or figurative chains.

Alternative Present

i love these lyrics so much. makes me want to extinguish ignorance by any means necessary, while headbanging, but with full body rhythm.

The music video to “Run” follows the captive subject of an invasive medical procedure as he experiences terrifying psychedelic visions of an eldritch being while fellow patients dance in ritual. The video calls to mind the CIA’s MKUltra experiments, adding a twist to the album’s alternative history narrative and demonstrating the band’s reimagining of sociopolitical violence and state power through occult themes. While the band’s first two albums heavily employed a lo-fi sound and close imitation of gospel and blues forms to craft an alternative sonic history, Zeal & Ardor’s self-titled album makes use of more contemporary production influences. This serves to expand the story to an alternative present and a speculative future while exploiting the innovations and affordances of contemporary popular music to move the body and the emotions in uniquely powerful ways.

In Zeal & Ardor’s sonic past, slaves in the antebellum south rejected the God of their masters and developed a tradition of musical resistance – satanic spirituals, work songs, and slave escape songs augmented with black metal blast beats, tremolo-picked guitars, and eerie shrieks. On the self-titled album, lo-fi blues and spirituals are anachronistically combined with sleek industrial metal and hip-hop influences, while lyrics and visuals suggest a modern or near-future setting where class and racial tensions manifest as religious conflict between the American Christian hegemony and militant satanists, the ideological (and/or genetic) descendants of enslaved black people. The second single “Erase,” for example, opens with a reverb-drenched guitar and the line “We’re the only ones left alive” repeated in a hushed croon, evoking the intimate vocal production and relaxed diction of mumble rap before abruptly shifting style to aggressive metal with jagged start-stop guitars. The third single “Bow” is the most enargeic depiction of the near-present setting of the album. Synth bass, handclap snare, and bluesy backing vocalizations work together to produce a transhistorical soundscape while lyrics describe omens of a modern apocalypse and the end of American imperialism: “A Greek god on the back of a stallion / Coming up on a three-lane highway / Prepare for the death of a billion / Wake up at the end of my day.” By extending their alternative history into the present, Zeal & Ardor not only imagines a lineage of black expressions of evil, but expands this narrative to confront modern threats of class warfare, psychological torture, and societal collapse that invite audiences to reflect on contemporary political violence and forms of resistance.

The irregular rhythms and overtly digital production on this album reflect another coupling between practices of sonic emancipation across the Atlantic: hip hop and industrial music. The two genres emerged in the mid-late 1970s in the Bronx and London, respectively, as subcultural movements to hijack pop music through DIY practices, the misuse and abuse of hegemonic technologies, and (more specifically) the use of synthesizers and audio samples to remix the past and create new futures. The album’s industrial and hip hop rhythms draw on the same principle of sonic defamiliarization as Norwegian black metal to radically different effect: whereas undifferentiated blast beats and chainsaw guitars work to collapse the boundary between speed and slowness and between loudness and ambience, the staggering rhythms and tactical use of silence in songs like “Feed the Machine” or “Götterdämmerung” produce sonic vacuums that highlight the dynamic range and rhythmic intensity and compel the body to move through calculated bursts of sound. Amidst these defamiliarizing effects, the lyrics, visuals, and sonic cues all paint a narrative the listener can latch onto for orientation and meaning, channeling the primal aggression of the haptic void into emotion and action related to social justice.

Speculative Future

Zeal & Ardor has quickly become the main staple when I listen to Metal ever since I heard Devil Is Fine when it was released[…] They also have given me pause to look into Black Metal as a genre again because I was ticked off when I saw all the racist undertones that comes with bands in the space.

–Phillip Bauer, comment on the video The Downbeat Podcast - Manuel Gagneux (Zeal & Ardor).

The album’s final single “Church Burns” opens with isolated, subtly clip-distorted call-and-response vocals before introducing chain gang percussion, clean guitars, and melodic piano. The catchy pop-blues vocals ramp up in pace and intensity through the prechorus until the beat drops with the introduction of distorted guitars and heavy drums in the chorus. The lyrics describe a church burning and other crimes of murder and arson committed by a black fugitive. The narrator’s actions mirror similar crimes committed by anti-theistic white supremacists in the Norwegian black metal scene. The soft bridge leads into the final chorus with the line “Whatever be the cost (Got the feeling that I must) / Bring that flame to the cross (Bring that flame to the cross).” The final parenthetical response line is delivered as a whisper, as if a voice in the narrator’s head, and similarly mirrors the cross burnings practiced as an intimidation tactic by the Klu Klux Klan. These acts of terrorism – church arson and cross burning – are divorced from their white supremacist connotations within Zeal & Ardor’s sonic fiction, once again taking on their original meanings as signs for anti-authoritarian rage and declarations of war.

In stark contrast to “Church Burns,” the following track “Götterdämmerung” is a mid-tempo extreme metal song. The song’s title alludes to the final work in Wagner’s epic opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. The lyrics – predominantly screamed in Gagneux’s native language of German – describe a metaphorical twilight of the gods, commanding the listener to reject the oppressive old gods (i.e. the God of Christianity) in favor of a fallen black god. The use of the German language and allusions to Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle operate as allusions on two related levels: first, to the Norwegian black metal scene and associated artists’ romanticization and use of the German language and Norse mythology, and second to the widespread cultural associations between German and Naziism, as well as Nazi appropriations of Wagner’s music. In the context of Zeal & Ardor’s militant black satanism, however, these signs are contested and subverted. The materiality and harsh grain of the German language, like the provocative act of church burning, is purified of its associations with racism and repurposed into a general signifier of aggression and violent resistance. In exploiting these connotations, Zeal & Ardor uses the generic codes of extreme metal to acknowledge histories of racism while creating new spaces for emancipatory expression in metal.


By attending to both the representational and affective aspects of Zeal & Ardor’s music, and by treating genre as a means of articulating the two, I have illustrated how the band appropriates the generic codes of black folk music and black metal to rewrite the history of both. As issues of cultural exploitation, systemic racism, and institutionalized violence continue to garner media attention, mainstream social justice discourses and movements like Black Lives Matter often rhetorically emphasize the nonagency and victimization of minorities (Wu, et al, 2023). Against this cultural backdrop, metal music provides an outlet for empowering expressions of righteous anger and simulated violence. Zeal & Ardor’s sonic fiction works to reclaim musical and imagistic codes from their racist associations to create space for black and anti-racist aesthetics of evil.

My theorization of metal offers some insight into what the music does for its audiences, laying a foundation for future sonic-rhetorical scholarship on metal music. I neither claim nor attempt to argue that metal music has the inherent capacity to dismantle systemic oppression. The irony is that, as radical artists grow in popularity and reach wider audiences with their emancipatory message, this success almost always operates within existing channels of capital flow. Any positive effect on an audience is met with further opportunities for the capture and exploitation of user data and the alienation of listeners from the emotional labor performed while streaming and sharing music (Owen, 2023). Despite its profound power to move mass audiences physically and emotionally, the political effects of music are constrained by these institutionalized channels. It is possible to engage in emancipatory rhetorical practices to adjust the infrastructure of the music industry, however, this is done not through music, but through a radical reconceptualization of production, distribution, and marketing (Tomlinson, 2021). On the other hand, the YouTube comments that I’ve included as section epigraphs serve as anecdotal evidence for how Zeal & Ardor’s music operates on a personal and subcultural level to explore and celebrate black folk music, reimagine antiracism as a form of iconoclastic sonic violence, and confront and purify the associations between extreme metal and racism. Coming to terms with the limits of musical argument and empowerment orients rhetorical scholarship on popular music toward the study of the specific mechanisms through which a musical discourse might move individuals and communities physically, emotionally, and politically.


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