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:
  • Bosh66
  • siLLy puPPy (leader)


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avant-garde metal Music Reviews

EX EYE Ex Eye

Album · 2017 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Post-rock? Post-metal? Post-jazz? or Post-psychedelia? Well, all of the above actually. EX EYE is a new kid on the block and making a whole lot of noise without resorting to cliche been-there done-that retro worship. This quartet of seasoned veterans formed in New York City consists of alto and bass saxophonist Colin Stetson ( Eternal Buzz Brass Band, The Sway Machinery, Transmission Trio ), guitarist Toby Summerfield ( Algernon, Crush Kill Destroy, Never Enough Hope ), synthesizer wizard Shahzad Ismaily ( 2 Foot Yard, Barbez, Burnt Sugar, Causing A Tiger, Ceramic Dog, Doveman, Kotkot, Pure Horsehair and Secret Chiefs 3 ) and drummer Greg Fox ( Guardian Alien, Liturgy, Teeth Mountain, Zs). EX EYE is one of those avant-garde type groups that is similar to others like Zu and Aluk Todolo and succeeds in creating a sort of frenetic drone type music, that meaning a very hypnotic anchoring system with a hornet’s nest of buzzing instruments that swirl around its center with extra attention on hyperactive saxophone attacks, black metal riffs that dance in the dark with oscillating swirling synthesizer sounds.

While the post-metal tag genre tag has traditionally been somewhat synonymous with sludge metal such as with bands like Neurosis and Isis pretty much fitting into both worlds, the two subgenera are not exactly identical at all. Sludge metal is derived primarily from doom metal with aggressive emphasis on guitar feedback and groovy riffs and angry vocals often bordering on hardcore punk whereas post-metal owes its atmospheric hypnotic riffs and grooves more to the world of post-rock which focuses on long drawn out and repetitive passages that slowly shift the dynamics of the atmosphere and tempos. EX EYE is more of the latter but does exhibit both styles as they are conservative with root notes and profligate with the subtle and abrupt changes around them. The end result is a very groovy and hypnotic drift through frenzied sax and guitar solos and complex flurries of synthesized bliss that deftly blend the simplistic with an array of complex counterpoints. The band is also unique as far as i know in that they substitute the bass guitar with a bass saxophone. Their debut eponymous album consists of four mostly lengthy tracks and there is a bonus twelve minute track on digital forms.

“Xenolith; The Anvil” (3:55) is the shortest track that carries a repetitive almost funk type groove that extends pretty much throughout. Graced with a heavy dramatic technical drum workout to dazzle us upon first listen, the track quickly chills out with a lackadaisical percussive drive as the groove unfolds slowly followed by the guitar and sax counterpoints that ratchet up the tension. “Opposition/Perihelion; The Coil” (12:29) takes on a new persona with a syncopated drum and bass sax line on hyperdrive and stuck in a two note groove that eventually takes on a slight musical scale and is the track that sounds most like Aluk Todolo however just when you think the groove is set on cruise control it changes things up with a partial melodic change. After the frenetic intro, the guitar becomes sludgy and slows down while the saxophone parts become fuel injected as if they are channeling John Zorn at his most caffeinated.

“Anaitis Hymnal; The Arkose Disc” (11:56) makes me think a Klaus Schulze CD has been slipped into my player as a dark and brooding electronic storms brews with a dreadful hum and a swarm of insectoid aliens flying ahead. The percussion joins in but as an intermittent tom strike that feels as if a sole giant is thundering the Earth as he walks upon its fragile crust. As the synth takes me to Neptune, the sax gains power as an oscillating beacon of terror and then, the final straw breaks the camel’s back as the relentless blastbeat drumming adds the final fear inducing ingredient as the sax goes even crazier and the instruments all start to fade in and out of tune with each other until they reach a terrifying frenetic climax. Yes, indeed. This is the soundtrack of nightmares. “Form Constant; The Grid” (8:08) delivers an oscillating sax attack that is accompanied by a high pitched atmospheric backdrop before it all goes nuts with frenetic nonstop avant-garde jazz sax noodling, guitar bombast and a minimalist synthesizer sequence that reminds me of Philip Glass’ “Glassworks” and “Koyaanisqatsi” era.

Tten Crows : The Corruptor” (bonus track digital only) (12:01) is surprisingly quite different from the rest of the pack and the most bizarre. It consists of an intermittent guitar riffs, somewhat lazy following percussive drive and a frenetic synth and sax dueling it out. This one actually has more of a drawn out melody although every note is amplified by sax shredding and atmospheric weirdness. The guitar is also much more aggressive as it enters pure metal territory. In the middle it changes into some sort of Latin percussion with an acid jazz type of keyboard run. The guitar fuzz is thicker on this one and there is more of guitar dominated soloing that steals the show from the attention hog saxophone parts. This one is pretty cool and just as good as the other four tracks. Unfortunately i have the CD so it’s not on there.

EX EYE crank out a fairly sophisticated mix of minimalistic grooves wrapped up in jazzy saxophone virtuosity and psychedelic atmospheric ambience. The guitar, while present is usually reserved for power chords with the odd dominant riff entering the scene but is always in the background. All the musicians rely on intricate interplay and although certain segments showcase a retrospective instrument, the overall fabric of the music is very much dependent on how it’s all woven together. The repetitive groovy feel is extremely hypnotic while the overly busy counterpoints whizz around like a swarm of wasps that just had their nest knocked to the ground. While this isn’t as avant-garde and weird as it’s made out to be since it’s in the same musical experimental tree as bands like Aluk Todolo and Zu, EX EYE does however stand out as a fairly unique sounding outfit. Whether this pans out to be a full time project or not remains to be seen, but as for now EX EYE has conjured up a satisfying slice of hypnotic varied post-metal with all kinds of frenetic accoutrements that take the listener into dark musical soundscapes.

ARCTURUS Arcturian

Album · 2015 · Avant-garde Metal
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Warthur
Arcturus took a decade off of creating studio albums after Sideshow Symphonies and have returned with this, a pretty solid new release which, though it lacks any fully-fledged epics (with all the song lengths at less than six minutes), still offers a confection of progressive-minded metal with symphonic and black metal touches, with the inclusion of (unless my ears deceive me) an actual string section really allowing them to bring their symphonic aspect to the fore. Sebastian Grouchot guests on violin and adds a nicely melancholic touch to pieces such as Crashland.

Like the preceding Sideshow Symphonies, this does not feel like as striking and groundbreaking a release as any of their first three studio albums (up to and including the classic Sham Mirrors). Still, if you loved those you will probably enjoy this, and even if other musicians have caught up with the far-out territory of Arcturus, Arcturian is still a nicely polished example of this sort of black-about-the-edges progressive metal.

ARCTURUS Sideshow Symphonies

Album · 2005 · Avant-garde Metal
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Warthur
As far as Arcturus album titles go, "Sideshow Symphonies" is rather apt. "Symphonies" are in play in the sense that the music is deep in progressive realms with, as in the classic Sham Mirrors or La Masquerade Infernale, only hints of their earlier black metal style present (and these are buried deeper than ever). And "Sideshow" in the sense that this doesn't feel like a top-flight, main event level Arcturus album.

Perhaps part of the issue is that the album explores a somewhat more mellow side of their sound, which following the bombastic moments of the previous two albums may feel rather restrained and meek. It's still an interesting enough release in its own right, with influences ranging from Pink Floyd (Shipwrecked Frontier Pioneer) to, I swear, just a hint of IQ (just imagine Peter Nicholls singing Hibernation Sickness Complete and you might see what I mean), but I can see why it's an often overlooked album from them.

MR. BUNGLE Bowel of Chiley

Demo · 1987 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
The second MR BUNGLE demo emerged only a year after the first and found the band shedding their death metal skin and began to take on a ska funk rock sound that was part of the alternative underground of the 80s most notably mastered by bands like Fishbone, Red Hot Chili Peppers and 24/7 Spyz amongst others. Likewise with a sound shift came a new cast of characters. While Mike Patton, Trey Spruance and Trevor Dunn were riding the BUNGLE carousel for the long run, others like Jed Watts and Martin Fosnaugh jumped ship after only one demo. While Theo Lengyel wouldn’t remain with the band till its demise, he nevertheless appeared on all the early demos. The is also the only appearance of Scott Fritz who played trumpet.

So different in style is the second demo BOWEL OF CHILEY compared to the previous “The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny” that it sounds like a completely different band with only Mike Patton’s signature vocal style giving a clue as to who this band is. While the first demo was rather short in length, BOWEL OF CHILEY is a full album’s length with different tracks taking on different identities ranging from ska and funk rock to (occasional) avant-garde metal and just plain weird rock. While the the next two demos showcased many of the primeval forms of tracks that would be reworked and released on the 1991 debut album, this one contains almost exclusively compositions that would never see the light of day on any album with the sole exception of “Carousel” which sounds very primitive compared to the masterpiece it would become. While the main melodic riff was already developed, Mike Patton’s vocals weren’t and the whole thing sounds like a drunken romp at a Mexican mariachi party.

Speaking of mariachi parties, “Evil Satan” probably sounds the most like a Mexican tequila march and fully in sync with the swing revival fad of the 90s with a dash of alternative rock guitar added to the recipe. Nice trumpet work though and this tracks sounds a lot like Fishbone only not nearly as good as their debut EP from 1985. “Jumping” has some great jazzy guitar work from Spruance although Patton doesn’t quite pull off the Ethel Merman thing with his scatting. The track “( )” (no, Sigur Ros didn’t come up with that!) is probably my favorite as Trevor Dunn displays his full bass playing fury as does Spruance churn out the most funkified guitar riffs that turn into heavy funk metal. Also Patton seems to have mastered his vocals and overall the track is just more interesting and varied. It sounds more professional and closer to the avant-garde funk metal prowess of the debut album. It’s also a sneak preview into the world of progressive rock with some wickedly cool time signature deviations and compositional fortitude.

There are two versions of this demo. The first was released as a cassette and meant to be what it was released as: a demo. It contained twelve tracks from “For No Reason” to “Freight Train.” The popularity of the band in the 90s found the demand for their demos to be re-issued so lo and behold a CD version emerged in 1997 with five extra unreleased tracks with cute names like “Far In A Bag” and “Snap, Crackle, Pop.” Although an improvement and a welcome stylistic shift from their lackluster death metal days, BOWEL OF CHILEY is a long way from prime time and finds the band able to write a few catchy songs, most of the tracks come off as amateurish and mediocre. Add to that that they still haven’t mastered the art of performing them. Patton’s vocals are particularly awful and he hadn’t quite learned the techniques he was grasping for. An interesting historical artifact for those who wish to dig deep but not really of interest for anyone else.

DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA Pacifisticuffs

Album · 2017 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Very few bands in the overcrowded world of progressive rock / metal manage to develop a highly unique and utterly original sound right from the start and even fewer manage to keep the legions of copycats from jumping on the bandwagon, but fourteen years after their formation, the bizarre avant-swing-symphonic-metal-rock group DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA still manages to exist in a musical universe all their very own. After long speculation of whether or not the band would continue after the departures of vocalist Annlouice Loegdlund and percussionist Petter Karlsson, the band kept the rumors at bay by declaring that they were still an active musical group yet somehow the years slipped by with no new album. Finally after a mere half decade DOS returns with their fourth album PACIFISTICUFFS. While originally slated for a 2016 release, the countless delays and technical difficulties in the mixing resulted in a year long delay from the original target. But at long last towards the end of 2017, the album has finally emerged and sounds exactly like what one would expect as a followup to their 2012 album “Pandora’s Piñata.”

As with all the DSO album, PACIFISTICUFFS is quite the sophisticated project that may not be apparent upon a casual listening experience. The band once again take the disparate elements of swing revival and symphonic prog rock as their main canvasses to paint upon but include the usual metal guitar riffs to add the extra heft albeit the latter are much less pronounced as opposed to their earlier heavy guitar-laden riffing. This album still retains all the DSO characteristics that came before but there are a lot more genre diversions as well. The most prominent of these is a heavy emphasis on Balkan gypsy folk rhythms and musical scales that add that polka-esque oom-paa-paa feel to much of the album. Some of the brass sections also carry a klezmer type of flavor at times and there are even parts that dip into Elvis Presley country-esque territory (“The Age Of Vulture Culture”) and tango (“Cul-de-sac Semantics”) as well as occasional banjo outbursts. The symphonic tracks are quite grand with lush violin and viola passages that make you forget you’re listening to a rock based album at times. This is quite the assembly of musicians and contains a huge army of personal on board to bring about this album. There are not only eight members credited to be official members but an additional eleven musicians that add the touches of violin, viola, double bass, clarinet, tube, additional percussion and backing vocals. The production department is no less impressive.

While DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA gets lumped into the avant-garde metal camp, i have to emphasize that this is not really a metal band at all but an avant-garde swing revival band that just happens to incorporate aspects of metal into their overall sound. For those who only rely on the metal bombast to keep their interest, then PACIFISTICUFFS will surely disappoint because of the fact that the metal parts seem to play much less of a role this time around. True that tracks like “Superhero Jaggnath” have ample bursts of guitar riffing prowess but for the most part, this album is more of a silky smooth studio album that some may call overproduced and overweening in its pompous operatic outbursts that at their peak don’t sound too far off from some of the zeuhl band Magma’s most in-yer-face moments. Also as always, DSO focus their full force on over-the-top catchy melodies that become exaggerated by the pomp and awe of the many backing elements of swing, rock and symphony. Both newbies vocalist Kristin Evegård and drummer Johan Norbäck integrate perfectly into the band with Evegård sounding exactly like her predecessor in every possible way. On a side note, the non-album track “Jigsaw Hustle” which appeared in 2014 as a lone single has been rerecorded and shows the diverse palette expand even further into the disco revival world. The track reminds me a lot of ELO’s “Out Of The Blue” era.

After only a couple listens to PACIFISTICUFFS, i’m utterly amazed at how well it all flows together so seamlessly where every little touch is disciplined and the puzzle pieces placed in a precise order in order to achieve the desired effect. All the delays in the mixing room were worth the wait as the production is absolutely crystal clear and instead of all the disparate instruments sounding like a big muddy mess, each has found its niche in the greater sonic picture as if a great conductor is hiding behind the scenes as to ensure that nobody jumps the gun and gets all jiggy on us. PACIFISTICUFFS will not win over any non-believers for sure. If anything it will scare off all but the most serious music nerds who are fans of the many genres on display here. For me, this album ranks as one of the band’s most ambitious and taking the logical path of progression past 2012’s “Pandora’s Piñata.” It’s hard to know what to call this anymore since the tracks vary so much and no element dominates the soundscape for long. Not every track contains metal, nor swing nor symphonic chamber rock. Some contain all three but no matter which of these holds the reins at any particular moment, they are always accompanied by unexpected elements guided by memorable and captivating melodic developments. I do believe that DSO have proven that they are no mere novelty and that they have the chops to pull off some of the most mind-bending genre juggling there is to be heard.

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