Avant-garde Metal

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Avant-garde metal, experimental metal, or art metal is a subgenre of heavy metal music characterised by the use of innovative, avant-garde elements, large-scale experimentation, and the use of non-standard sounds, instruments, and song structures.

The term avant-garde metal refers to bands and musicians who "incorporate new and innovative elements in metal, who break conventions, tear down walls, violate borders." The genre has also been described as "the art of creating deep and strange atmospheres by experimenting with new instruments and sounds, strange vocals, unconventional song structures, rhythms and harmonies, unusual lyrics or uncommon artwork" or alternatively, "progressive, psychedelic, surrealistic, phantasmagoric, expressionistic, dissonant or extravagant interpretations of extreme metal."

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avant-garde_metal

Sub-genre collaborators (shared with Progressive Metal):
  • siLLy puPPy
  • DippoMagoo
  • Sisslith
  • adg211288

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PECCATUM Strangling from Within

Album · 1999 · Avant-garde Metal
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PECCATUM was one of the side projects of Ihsahn formed in 1998 two years before he finally broke up Emperor and was one of those husband and wife team things that he did with his significant other Ihriel which she initiated as her first musical project and of course how could Ihsahn refuse getting involved. The band was basically Ihsahn and Ihriel although her sister Lord Pz added vocals on the first two albums. PECCATUM lasted for eight years and released three albums before Ihsahn embarked on a solo career and Ihriel went more in the folk metal direction with Hardingrock and solo as Starofish.

Although this debut STRANGLING FROM WITHIN prognosticates much of what would constitute the average solo album from Ihsahn in the following decade and beyond, there are a few key elements that differentiate the PECCATUM project. While the gnarled progressive black metal riffs and gothic underbelly evoke the following Ihsahn albums, STRANGLING FROM WITHIN is more like a symphonic classical compositional album that is dressed in black metal clothing. The opening “Where Do I Belong” insinuates a less metal experience than anything Emperor churned out and the album is brought more into the realms of opera by Ihriel’s high pitched vocal style however it’s her one trick pony screeches that bring this album down a few notches.

“The Change” and its rampaging progressive black metal attack charges at a furious tempo with blastbeats and sounds like something that should’ve been on an Emperor album but the following “The Song Which No Name Carry” displays a very avant-garde swagger that would become one of Ihsahn’s signature styles once gone solo. “The Sand Was Made Of Mountains” brings back the symphonic elements with feisty keyboard heft and jittery guitar parts along with a more jazzy drumming style. This tailor made progressive song brings out some of his most knotty workouts before the album slows down a bit and culminating with the more classically infused lengthy “The World Of No Worlds” and “And Pray For Me.”

Overall there’s some great moments on this album but Ihsahn’s bestial black metal vocal style along with Ihriel’s airy fairy high wails just don’t jive together very well making this beauty and beast approach sound like two beasts duking it out in the gender wars. Compositionally speaking the album flows fairly well but the mix of the black metal and classical elements does feel a bit clumsy at times. Once again, i cannot stress how irritating Ihriel’s vocals are on this album but luckily they don’t dominate and can be forgotten, well, at least until they leap back into the scheme of things. For being a first offering, this album isn’t horrible by any means but it certainly isn’t Ihsahn’s swan song either especially considering this was released while he was still in Emperor.

CONFUSATRON Chewbacalypse Now

Album · 2003 · Avant-garde Metal
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Ever since Mr Bungle dropped their three genre skipping bombs on the world in the 1990s there have been many attempts to duplicate the insanity that worked so well on those albums but more often than not (with a few notable exceptions) many attempts to recreate the magic that enveloped the Bungle universe has only resulted in making us hardcore fans realize that it’s much easier to fuck it all up than to actually create an album that works on multiple levels. While bands like Sigh, Unexpect, Diablo Swing Orchestra and Maudlin Of The Well have forged their own paths in a way that mimics the Bunglers but don’t downright copy them, many more acts have tried and failed at reaching the magnanimity of such cross-pollinating gymnastics.

Here’s yet one more band from Portland, Maine. CONFUSATRON is a bit mysterious since it’s not easy to find out when they formed but what is known is that this trio of Doug Porter (vocals, guitar), Jason LaFrance (bass) and Adam Cogswell (drums) has released two albums, the first being this 2003 debut titled CHEWBACALYPSE NOW which obviously displays a comedic approach to their shtick. As a dabbler in genre shapeshifting, CONFUSATRON runs the gamut of everything from death metal and jazz to cartoon music, ska, rockabilly, punk, funk, dance pop and pretty much everything else you would expect from an ambitious bunch of youngsters. While the idea sounds good on paper, the truth is that CONFUSATRON doesn’t quite pull off what anyone would hope to expect at least on this first release.

While the great Mr Bungle were masters of juxtaposing musical virtuosity with potty mouth humor, somehow Mike Patton and his boyz were brilliant in their ability to nurture ideas to the point of expiration and moving on. Not the case with CHEEWBACALYPSE NOW. This album seems to revolve around stylistic shifts but unfortunately milk any particular idea to the point of ennui. The opening “Turboface” for example sprawls out to a whopping 13 1/2 minutes of playing time which insinuates some kind of progressive behemoth or epic rotisserie session through the multiverse of musical ideas but in reality exists in a more punk centered world where riffs, ideas and cadences are recycled again and again. Unfortunately things don’t really improve much from there.

While not completely devoid of interesting content, CHEWBACALYPSE tries to use samples, spoken word bits, sound effects and video game sounds to pad the content but unfortunately much of the album is repetitive with lengthy loops of rather straight forward funk metal, punk rock or whatever to create rather monotonous bouts of tedium. Ugh, i so want to like this more but there are just too many irritating factors. When it comes to multi-genre juggling acts, you really have to have all your ducks in a row to pull off a stream of consciousness balancing act and on this debut album, CONFUSATRON clearly had not mastered those Jedi mind tricks quite yet. While this is an interesting mix of ideas more in the vein of Dog Fashion Disco or a more adventurous Primus, the end result just doesn’t leave me satisfied. The band only released on more album seven years later so i’ll have to check that out to hear how much they have matured. As for this, it’s OK but lacks an overarching vision that connects the sums of the part.


Album · 2020 · Avant-garde Metal
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Corey Jason Cochran’s wild and crazy project THE CONJURATION is a decade old now and has produced some of the most experimental death metal based music on the scene, so much so that many have had a difficult time wrapping their heads around this act, but lo and behold, this real band project that consists of Corey Jason Cochran (guitar, vocals, programming), Josh Moss (bass, keyboards), Eric Mills (drums), Perry Creath (guitar, backing vocals) and Jonathan Shelton (vocals, keyboards) has unapologetically stuck it out and forged their visions into reality whether anybody else approves or not.

Granted that if you go all the way back to the beginning, albums like “Madgod: A Psychonautical Journey Into Mania And Dementia” were a bit grandiose with a desired sense of epic greatness not matched by the talent going into it but slowly over the past decade THE CONJURATION has matured into a well-oiled albeit psychotic and schizoid metal band and with its sixth album GOSPEL. It almost sounds like this band is ready to burrow through a wormhole and take on the soundtrack of another dimension entirely and is indeed the type of extreme metal madness that pleases avant-gardists such as myself while irritating many other metal purists like a swarm of stinging hornets.

In this run of ten tracks that are just shy of 43 minutes of playing time, THE CONJURATION deftly juxtaposes the harsh abrasiveness of tech death metal with thrash metal stomps, metalcore breakdowns and symphonic non-metal cadences fueled with electronica, moments of lounge lizard exotica, classical piano rolls and a few other tricks all infused into a progressive procession of mathcore laced madness and lots of stop and start mindfuckery that allows all kinds of non-metal sounds to seep in between the silent cracks and allow complete shifts in style derail the entire train of thought before drifting off in some cockamamie freak show and then regaining the train of thought before losing it again!

The closest metal act i can compare this one to would be Azure Emote, especially the debut album “Chronicles Of An Aging Mammal” which is utterly bonkers and so is this really! While this album is truly chaotic, the production is off the charts excellent with interesting juxtapositions of counterpoints which is quite fascinating. Individually the instruments play melodic parts but in opposition to one another and the stop / start freneticism allows extreme metal guitar distortion to alternate with keyboards, violins or whatever else these freaky dudes can conjure up. Perhaps the most insane track of all is the mondo-bizarro “A Sickening Display” which sounds like an industrial metal band has gotten stuck in an old vacuum tube with electrical shocks making intermittent high voltage sessions.

When all is said and done, just look at the album cover and imagine a soundtrack to it only intensified by extreme deathened mathcore with industrial electronica, caffeinated classical elements and jittery A.D.D. changes that will drive those who needs recognizable patterns fucking bonkers. Whether you can tolerate this one or not, you can’t help but be impressed by the musicianship and artistic statement being presented. This is not just avant-garde weirdness for its own sake. This definitely has a very strange twisted beauty to it and despite the comparison to Azure Emote that is only the closest other deranged band that i can come up with. This actually exists in its own little universe and all the better for it. Personally i find this engaging all the way through. It’s one of those albums that succeeds in taking me somewhere completely new and unexpected and does a mighty fine job in the process. Bravo!

SHINING Blackjazz

Album · 2010 · Avant-garde Metal
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After two albums of classic 60s avant-garde tinged post-bop jazz and two more of dark experimental progressive rock laced with auxiliary reserves of tripped out electronica and partitioned metal music bombast, SHINING led by the eccentric composer and band leader Jørgen Munkeby decided to delve into the heavier world of extreme metal that trimmed down the musical instruments even more and focused on a caustic rambunctious style of guitar driven metal with crazy jazz flair ups courtesy of Munkeby’s frenetic saxophone squawking.

Another sound shift also signified yet another change in the lineup. Out was keyboardist Andreas Hessen Schei replaced by synthesizer wizard Bernt Moen and gone was basset Morten Strøm who found a replacement in Tor Egil Kreken. Torstein Lofthus stuck around for this third wave of stylistic shifts as drumming powerhouse extraordinary and the band added one extra member in the form of Even Helte Hermansesn as a second guitarist thus making the new version of SHINING a provocative and quixotic quartet. While the previous albums were primarily instrumental, SHINING’s fourth album BLACKJAZZ was their breakthrough and featured a frenetic fast-tempo paced style of industrialized metal with Munkeby taking on the newfound duties as lead vocalist.

One of the major inspirations behind this sudden shift into extreme metal was the band’s 2007 tour with Enslaved and also due to the fact that the previous two ridiculously complex albums didn’t translate so well live therefore BLACKJAZZ was designed to represent how the band performed in a live setting with the album title referring to this new bizarre amalgamation of black metal, industrial rock and of course jazz! The album exists in the same league as fellow Norwegian band Dødheimsgard and in many ways Munkeby’s frantic vocal style reminds me of Devin Townsend especially from his earlier years on Steve Vai’s “Sex & Religion” album as well as with Strapping Young Lad.

BLACKJAZZ doesn’t waste any time slapping you in the face with caustic swells of guitar riffs, bantering bass lines and spastic drum rolls but for all its direct assault on the senses, the musical flow is much simpler with less detours into psychedelic atmospheric journeys into another universe. The second track “Fisheye” dates back to the 2008 when SHINING performed with Enslaved at the 90-minute “Armageddon Concerto” and was mined to create the studio version of the first movement. It seems that this decision was the impetus to switching to the avant-garde industrial metal style on BLACKJAZZ and for those hoping for another dark prog journey in the vein of King Crimson’s debut, they must have been as disappointed as the jazz purists who first heard SHINING’s third album “In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster.”

Ubiquitous caustic bombast aside, BLACKJAZZ is filled with creepy and oft eerie atmospheric backdrops that keep the incessant high octane metal rampages into the world of darkened progressive rock with highbrow time signature workouts, intricately designed atmospheric generators and brilliant execution through highly energetic but adventurous virtuosity. While saxophone jazz mixed with metal has become a bit cliche some ten years after this release, nobody has pulled it off quite as well as SHINING did when such a concept was still a novelty. All those King Crimson attacks are still quite present to the trained ear with the most striking example coming on “Exit Sun” which mimics parts of “21st Century Schizoid Man” which also happens to appear as a more metal cover version as the album’s closer.

As the album entered mid-point with the crazed “Healter Skelter,” the jazz and metal parts become ever more entwined with the saxophone parts dueling in a death match with the rampaging guitar and bass lines. This particular score is daunting in its virtuosic delivery. For those who appreciated the less bombastic approach of the previous two albums, BLACKJAZZ does deliver some darkened prog goods in the form of Anekdoten or Morte Macabre on tracks like “The Madness and the Damage Done” and most importantly “Omen” although do be warned that the quickened pace fo the drums, vocals and guitar parts which contrast quite starkly with the chilled out atmospheric backdrop offers a stunning contrast of stylistic approaches somehow woven together seamlessly as only true seasoned composers can master but it’s probably the excesses of “Blackjazz Deathtrance” that i find most memorable here.

After a more extreme version of “21st Century Schizoid Man,” the classic King Crimson song from 1969 that pretty much was the firing canon of the entire prog explosion that followed, the album ends and leaves you with the initial perception that you’re not entirely sure what you just experienced. BLACKJAZZ performed an incredible mastery of fusing completely disparate musical styles into a seamless whole. The caustic metal mixes with jazz and what sounds like symphonic classical music is uncanny in how well it all gels together. Sure this isn’t black metal and it isn’t jazz but elements of both are here hanging out on the same playground along with their buddies prog rock, electronica, industrial rock, 20th century Western classical and moments of psychedelia.

This is not an easy listen for sure and will take some time for it to unleash its magic but once those sonic spores have hatched in your head, you cannot unhear it! In my world this is the second masterpiece in a row from the Norwegian band SHINING and although they wouldn’t keep the world’s attention very long after this lauded breakthrough, for a brief moment in time they were actually one of Norway’s most promising bands. Warning: not to be listened to if you have severe reactions to extreme stimuli! Symptoms may include sanity loss, ringing ears, excessive desires to bang head against wall and possible sudden outbursts that could leave hotel rooms in shambles. However if you have all those uncontrollable impulses firmly under lock and key, this album may provide that exhilarating excitement that extremophiles crave but rarely find in such abundance.

SHINING Grindstone

Album · 2007 · Avant-garde Metal
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Traversing the soundscapes like a majestic bird soaring over ever changing terrains of the land, the Norwegian band SHINING started off as a pure acoustic jazz tribute to the 1960s biggest post-bop avant-gardists including the legendary John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman but after two albums of excellent altar worshipping decided to add a bit more of experimental conviction to the mix as bandleader Jørgen Munkeby bravely plunged into a strange new world of sonic possibilities which equally dazzled critics and fans of unhinged experimental music. With the eccentrically designed “In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster,” Munkeby deftly crafted the intricacies of classical composer Olivier Messiaen and freeform jazz with the sonic textures of electronica and progressive rock and caught the world’s attention with this bizarre new agglutination of disparate musical genera.

The transition may have been necessary but came at a cost. Two of the original members jumped ship and wanted no part of this pioneering pilgrimage to the altar of some bizarre musical chimera as Munkeby cast his intent on following in the more esoteric sounds of early King Crimson. Out was pianist Morten Qvenild who was replaced with Andreas Hessen Schei and quickly following his exit strategy, bassist Aslak Hartberg was replaced by Morten Strøm. Having updated the band into a modern 21st century powerhouse of musical mojo, SHINING now gleamed like a shiny diamond and released its lauded followup GRINDSTONE which found a much more focused and oft direct stylistic approach after the airy abstract improvisational sounds of its predecessor. Instrumentation was tamped down from the excesses of “In The Kingdom” and found the simpler rock setup of keyboards, bass guitar and drums accompanied by Munkeby’s usual jazz standard of saxophone, flute and clarinet with his extra guitar contributions finding greater roles. Likewise the guest musicians were limited to a gong, extra organ touches and backing vocals.

Ironically GRINDSTONE opens with a track that bears the title of the previous album. “In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster” actually refers to a reference in the novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” but puts an extra emphasis on the “monster” part as the title which signifies a newfound love for the bombast of metal music with crunchy distorted guitar riffs chugging away in a caustic bravado worthy of scoring that role as opening act with extreme metal stalwarts Enslaved which the band opened for at the end of 2007. During these concerts SHINING would end their show with a cover of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” further cementing comparisons to the great KC. GRINDSTONE certainly comes off as a 21st century counterpart to KC’s classic debut “In The Court of the Crimson King” with an ineffable trans-genera journey through myriad stylistic approaches that incorporate everything form the metal bombast experienced at the beginning of the album to the more fluid avant-garde classical and jazz experiments that meander unexpectedly throughout GRINDSTONE’s 44 minute running time.

After the slap in the face chug-fest of the opening track, “Winterreise” follows the energetic delivery but adds an interesting mix of Baroque piano runs, atmospheric gloominess in movie soundtrack form and special detail to mixing heavier prog guitar heft with more symphonic escapades. “Stalemate Longan Runner” delves deeper into the Crimson court with angular guitar riffs coinciding with avant-jazz motifs and more heavenly atmospheric constructs. This trilogy of heavy rock bombast is separated from the rest of the album with the short “To Be Proud of Crystal Colors Is to Live Again” which evokes a music box and sets the stage for Act II which beings with another Crimsonian allusion in the title of “Moonchild Mindgames” which takes an avant-garde journey into the bizarr-o-sphere much like KC’s 69 classic “Moonchild” as it meanders from classical light as a feather motifs to the heavy jazz rock bombast “The Red Room” which takes a jazzier approach on KC’s “Red” only with hyperactive sax squawks that would make John Zorn proud.

“Asa Nisi Masa” in its brevity delivers the bombastic heft of metal guitar punctuated with off-kilter time signatures with a unique atmospheric dread and processed vocals followed by the second coming of “Crystal Colors” in full music box form. “Psalm” gets even weirder with the same processed vocal parts, a dramatic horror flick melody and the female soprano parts of Ashild Sikiri Refsdal which collectively sounds like the diva dance otherworldliness out of the movie “The Fifth Element” as it lollygags through rich percussive drives, manipulated electronic effects and a series of production techniques. The tracks followed by the clever 10th track which is morse code for Bach and is indeed a short devotion to period Baroque classical sounds. As the album wraps up, it unleashes the noisy fuzz-fueled “1:4:9” that would make a good alternative soundtrack clip for horror flicks like “The Exorcist.” The closing “Flight Dusk With Dawn” continues the melody and mixes the guitar heft of KC’s “Red” with avant-garde creepiness of Univers Zero’s “Heresie” thus ending the album on a very noisy yet surreal unnerving effect.

Despite the extreme guitar elements which guarantee a slot in metal databases, GRINDSTONE will appeal much more to aficionados of darkened heavy prog in the vein of not only classic King Crimson but Anekdoten, Morte Macabre and even a bit of Univers Zero and Art Zoyd. The album is exquisitely crafted and i find to be one fo the best dark progressive rock albums of the 21st century with its incessant zigzagging through myriad musical motifs that take on the sonic dexterity of bands like Goblin but evoke more of a creepy reverie of some of the more out there avant-classical composers of the 20th century such as the Transylvanian born György Ligeti. The music is dynamic and crafts a menagerie of stylistic shifts throughout it’s normal album playing time and straddles its tightrope act through various layers of heavy prog, atmospheric electronica and avant-garde jazz. It would’ve been impossible to comprehend such wild and innovative music coming from SHINING just a few years back when they were very much focused on early 60s jazz but somehow Munkeby channeled the zeitgeist of the aforementioned artists and crafted a veritable and often frightening compilation of sound effects that resulted in GRINDSTONE. This is one of those unsung masterpieces that will hopefully resonate more with others.

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