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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SIGH Imaginary Sonicscape Album Cover Imaginary Sonicscape
4.48 | 28 ratings
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ARCTURUS The Sham Mirrors Album Cover The Sham Mirrors
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GUAPO Black Oni Album Cover Black Oni
4.64 | 5 ratings
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KAYO DOT Choirs Of The Eye Album Cover Choirs Of The Eye
4.24 | 53 ratings
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ARCTURUS La Masquerade Infernale Album Cover La Masquerade Infernale
4.21 | 42 ratings
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SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM Of Natural History Album Cover Of Natural History
4.21 | 37 ratings
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DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA Sing Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious Album Cover Sing Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious
4.20 | 26 ratings
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MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Leaving Your Body Map Album Cover Leaving Your Body Map
4.15 | 49 ratings
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CELTIC FROST Into the Pandemonium Album Cover Into the Pandemonium
4.17 | 31 ratings
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MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Bath Album Cover Bath
4.14 | 55 ratings
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SHINING Blackjazz Album Cover Blackjazz
4.19 | 22 ratings
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avant-garde metal Music Reviews


Demo · 2018 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
One of many young metal bands emerging from the shadows of the underground, MOLEKH made an appearance on Wisteria Records’ behemoth of a compilation “Metal Madness Vol. 1” and was one of the bands that appealed to me the most. The band formed in Dublin, Ireland but judging from the names of the band members, they all seem to be of Polish descent. In January 2018, they released their very first demo available on Bandcamp ( https://molekh.bandcamp.com/releases ) which offers a short taste of three tracks not offered on the Metal Madness comp.

The name MOLEKH is a variation of Moloch, Molech, Milcom or Malcam which is a biblical name of a Canaanite god associated with child sacrifice, so you know you’re in for some extreme brutal and gory metal with this one. Likewise their three track titles are associated with gods, mythology and occult themes such as “Tophet” which refers a location where child sacrifice rituals took place. Nice cheery subject matter, eh? Well this is fucking metal in all it’s full glory here.

While the MOLEKH demo is a mere 14 minutes and 17 seconds long, it’s quite the beast of extremities. The overall sound is a polished hybridization of black and death metal glazed over with psychedelic atmospheres and avant-garde angular riffs. On the death metal side of the equation, the music is a fast and furious romp with heavy percussive drive and a steady stream of death metal gusto complete with tortured growling vocals.

On the black metal side, they takes the avant-garde weirdness of Deathspell Omega by utilizing dissonant angular riffing that display an off-kilter counterpoint to the steady rhythmic drive that is fueled by an energetic hyperdrive percussion that displays blastbeats that provide the scaffolding to let the guitar riffs buzz all over the place around them.

MOLEKH deliver a mature sonic feast of bombast as they find a midway point between the chaotic swirls of angular jangly guitar riffing and an accessible head banging groove. The production offers a nice mix of different vocal parts that actually do evoke a sacrificial vibe in the air. While the psychedelic aspects are minimal, the overall effect is quite trippy as the lead growls, guitar, bass and drums all have uniquely separate roles that create a greater sum of the parts. This is a band to look out for.

SMOHALLA Résilience

Album · 2011 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Wriggling sonic worms rippling through the undulating waves of the cosmos.

What are they putting in those macaroons? France has always been a nation that has taken the arts to places no one thought possible and that’s not only true in the kitchen with French food registering high on the yum-o-meter but in the 21st century, this is the nation that has been killin’ it in the extreme metal market all across the board but especially in the cross-pollinating fertile possibilities of black metal and beyond. Emerging somewhere from the Normandy region a band called SMOHALLA formed in 2006 and presented a new strange form of metal that gives credence to a new subgenre that could be penned “psychedelic metal” since despite it’s black metal connections, takes the listener into the far reaches of the space rock continuum and just happens to add a touch of metal gusto in fully adrenalized fashion. The band got their name from a 19th century Native American prophet from the Northwest region of the USA and the name means “dreamer” in the indigenous Sahaptin language. And what a perfect name for this band that exemplifies the most surreal of soundscapes that simulate the dream state more than anything remotely traditional compositionally speaking.

After two EPs the band that consists of Slo who handles the guitar work, percussion and vocals, Camille Giraudeau who handles bass and A.L. who conjures up the electronic wizardry and programming, finally released their first full length album RÉSILIENCE in 2011 and takes their space cadet ride presented on the first two releases goes for the jugular. Once again SMOHALLA boldly goes where no other metal band had gone before and created a bizarre concoction of dark ambient, operatic classical, progressive black metal and trip hop, only they take it to even stranger world as if the multiverse is collapsing on itself and various genres of sound are battling it out to dominate the successor of the throne. Seriously folks, music does not get more bizarre or surreal than this experimental and psychedelic sonic feast of avant-garde run amok. Imagine musical constructs that flow more like clouds slowly in the sky with subtle variations deviating from what preceded in a never changing structured yet formless march through time. That’s exactly what SMOHALLA deliver and on RÉSILIENCE they take these attributes to even more extremes.

Musically speaking, SMOHALLA develop small melodic riffs that blossom into an infinite number of variations that take form. Much like second wave black metal that utilized a simple riff that in the case of SMOHALLA seems mostly derived from Western classical sources but as the repetitive blockchain of riffage oscillates into the future, liberties are taken to differentiate the time signatures, dynamics, instrumentation and focus which at any time can bleed into another totally unrelated musical motif. While similar to the previous EPs, RÉSILIENCE is more relentless in its brutal attack and layering of styles over each other to create an extremely busy and surreal effect. One of the main elements includes progressive and tremolo picked angular black metal riffing which sometimes exhibits angry and raspy vocalizations and also employs clean Enslaved like vocals on their most progressive 21st century releases with similar chord progresses that are funneled through the schizoid grinder and given a healthy dose of acid blotter for good measure. The other major player is the atmospheric bombastic accoutrements that echo an epic soundtrack of clashing worlds while subdued choral utterances struggle to break through the caustic din.

The whole album flows with a trip hop sort of backbeat and even feels like it flagellates like a paramecium in a petri dish as the rhythmic pulses undulate like waves and exhibit the same unpredictability that the ocean does as it pummels the coast. Dream states come to mind when half baked ideas sputter into nothingness and suddenly drift off into completely new territory but not in a startling way but more in a connective way that creates bridges between randomness. Very strange stuff on this one and one that is perfect for those who crave totally tripped out metal that takes the listener on one of the farthest reaches of surrealistic sonic journeys. This is one of those albums that i can never quite grasp. It’s like wrestling a giant jellyfish in a bathtub and never knowing what’s really within reach. It’s just tangible enough to grasp rhythmic patterns and melodic embryos yet somehow leapfrogging counterpoints distract and disorient all reality. If you want WEIRD metal, then look no further than SMOHALLA. This will surely be too bizarre for most but recommended for those who crave the most intense WTF experiences possible.

SMOHALLA Nova Persei

EP · 2007 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
SMOHALLA emerged from the Normandy region of France but adopted their name from the Native American Wanapum prophet from the Dreamer’s movement in the US Pacific Northwest region. Living up to their appellation, this band found a unique niche in carving out some of the most surreal and psychedelic metal of the 21st century. Although their first release “Smolensk Collection” was initially a demo, it became a fully fledged member of the official SMOHALLA canon yet lacked a production that distinguished it from its initial demo status. While formed in 2006, the band that consists of three members: Slo (guitar, percussion and vocals), Camille Giraudeau (bass) and A.L. (electronic wizardry and programming) plus mystery guests such as the sonic siren who supplies the operatic female vocals.

NOVA PERSEI was technically their first official release as a short near 21 minute EP that contains six tracks that unleash the full avant-garde prowess of SMOHALLA’s vibrant inhibition. As on the demo turned official release which preceded NOVA PERSEI, this collection of bizarre musical concoctions is chock full of avant-garde progressive metal in the vein of Enslaved, Ulver, Ved Buens Ende, Solefald, Arcturus and Elend melded with psychedelic electronica and progressive rock that evokes everything from the psychedelic mellotron rock of Pink Floyd to the ethereal dream pop of the Cocteau Twins albeit with a production and mixing that blows “Smolensk Collection” away and a sense of adventurism on steroids.

While also on that release, the compositions were complex and unrelentingly unpredictable, on NOVA PERSEI the musical constructs are even more twisted and surreal and the only word that adequately describes them is “chaotic.” This EP was inspired by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft and evokes a soundtrack to a grand chaotic battle between the star NOVA PERSEI and the demon star “Algol,” which awakens the spirit to a cold eternal darkness that permeates space as the phantasmagoric parade of disparate musical elements clash and collaborate in seemingly random modes of sonic interplay with tremolo guitar distortion blasting through the ethereal winds of the synthesizers and bilingual utterances of raspy black metal, clean progressive rock and operatic divas create a beyond bizarre listening experience.

Chaotic indeed as everything on NOVA PERSEI is unrelenting and in-yer-face with heavy angular metal riffing duking it out with placid clean vocal progressive rock, operatic angels singing in the horizon and trip hop electronica beats. While there are times of respite such as the surreal intro of “Algol,” the music takes no time to deviate from a calm angularity to a frenetic surrealistic black metal nightmare. The superior production allows a mystifying tapestry of brutal metal, otherworldly keyboards and incongruent clean chanted vocals alongside brutal black metal raspy screams. In some ways, SMOHALLA evokes a less chaotic version of Unexpect minus the comical circus music and gypsy jazz. SMOHALLA certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. This is some of the most complex and convoluted mix of musical ideas there is to be had. It is truly an interdimensional battle of disparate musical styles offering the listener a glimpse into a delicate balance that seems on a tightrope ready to derail completely.

SMOHALLA Smolensk Combustion

EP · 2006 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Sometimes the name of a band tells the tale of the way their music sounds assuming you understand the origin. SMOHALLA is one such band that formed in 2006 in the Normandy region of France but took their name from a Native American prophet associated with the Dreamer’s movement in current day Washington state. In fact the name SMOHALLA means “dreamer” in the Sahaptin language which in recent years has neared linguistic extinction. The term actually describes this bizarre avant-garde metal band’s overall style quite accurately since the mix of a post-black metal style of aggression commingled with progressive rock and electronica indeed paints a surreal dreamy haze of musical flow that takes angular angelic atmospheres and punctuates them with heavy jagged metallic outbursts.

The band consists of three members. Slo who handles the guitar work, percussion and vocals, Camille Giraudeau who handles bass and A.L. who conjures up the electronic wizardry and programming. While a mere trio, these musicians pump out some of the most bizarre and surreal metal music i’ve ever heard. And i’ve heard a lot! SMOLENSK COLLECTION was released the same year of formation initially as a demo but soon became a fully fledged EP in retrospect as it is readily available for purchase on Bandcamp and included in the band’s overall discography. The band cite many Gothic and avant-garde prog metal bands as their influences including Ulver, Ved Buens Ende, Solefald, Arcturus, Elend and even Pink Floyd.

If there was ever an argument for the adoption of the “psychedelic metal” tag then SMOHALLA fits that bill perfectly since beginning with this very first offering they offer an entrancing display of ethereal sonic dreamscapes that utilize innovative and unpredictable melodies and atmospheres to join hands and take a musical journey into the far reaches of outer space and beyond. While the hypnotic electronic sounds can imitate Portishead-esque trip hop and downtempo, operatic female vocals emerge through the misty haze to add touches of calming classical music before the storm of jagged angular guitar riffs punctuate the serenity as black metal raspy vocals scream from a distance. There are many elements in the music and too many to mention as the clever crafting of samples, twisted distorted metal and pneumatic episodic meandering dominate the soundscape.

While initially released as a demo, none of the tracks on SMOLENSK COLLECTION are available on other releases and therefore an essential listening experience if you happen to fancy the most progressive side of Enslaved mixed with the angular grace of Arcturus in the distorted continuum of Maudlin of the Well. At times frenetic and at times a mere flow of cosmic sound, SMOHALLA is one of the strangest bands that falls into the metal world that can be heard. Think of this as an interdimensional clash between progressive black metal, avant-garde operatic symphonies and Shpongle-esque psybient touch as heard on the nine minute dark ambient closer “Lethal Silence.” While this may have achieved the status of EP, it does retain a demo like production level but despite that i actually find this a very interesting and exciting listen since the music is so powerful that the somewhat flat and tinny mixing only adds another layer of surrealism as if one must burrow deeper into the next dimension to fully appreciate the full-spectrum experience.

DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA Sing Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious

Album · 2009 · Avant-garde Metal
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Along with heavy metal, another style of music that I had grown up listening to quite a bit was Big Band and Swing music from the golden age of film. Although there was some Benny Goodman in the selection, most of what I heard were from the classic movie musicals of the 40's and 50's. I can't say I used to be a huge fan of the vocals, but I always loved the dancing and music that went along with it. In fact, I'd still rank classics like Royal Wedding (1951), The Band Wagon (1953), and It's Always Fair Weather (1955) among my favorite films.

Despite my love of both classic metal and classic films, I'd never have thought "Hey, you know Fred Astaire's awesome jazzy Shoe Shine song in The Band Wagon? Let's combine that with heavy metal and see what we get.". Wrathchild America did the swing and metal combo first back in 1991 with their song "Spy", or if you want to go even farther, Megadeth had some pretty swing-sounding rhythm sections on their first two albums. However, Diablo Swing Orchestra is to my knowledge the first band to make swing metal into an actual thing.

...and holy fuck. When I first heard "A Tap Dancer's Dilemma", I had no idea that this was something I wanted and needed, but fucking hell yes it was. Opening with that total classic sounding booming big band drum sound, it honestly sounds like you did just put on a swing record. Then those sexy horns and grinding guitar come in, it just sounds like a combo made in heaven. It really feels like this is from a scene from one of those old musicals, just with metal instrumentation added. Everything is just so fun, energetic, and just swingin'. Oh, and those basslines, those are smooth as silk that swings.

While the singing was my least favorite part of those musicals growing up, I've since grown to appreciate the vocal styles used such as opera singing and crooning. Usually when people think of opera and metal combined, they think of the over-abundance of Nightwish copycats, but here you couldn't get farther from that. This is real opera singing and other styles right out of those musicals. There's also some tango, surf, and other styles thrown in as far as the music goes. The metal aspect takes from alternative metal, thrash metal, funk metal, and some surprising nu-metal sounding riffs. There is absolutely no pretense here, just tasty licks and delicious riffs a plenty.

"Bedlam Sticks" has thrashing riffs shredding through your skin, blended with bass wizardry and quirky vocals that sounds right out of a Primus album. The vocals are all over the place on this song, with a mix of the aforementioned vocals, opera, cabaret, and even some death vocals thrown in there. "Vodka Inferno" has some crushing hooks that sound right out of a System of a Down album. "Rancid Romance" is an addicting metal tango, "Lucy Fears the Morning Star" has some colossal grooves, and "Ricerca Dell'anima" blends the musical metal sound with some cool surf rock techniques. Towards the end of the song, it's impossible to not love the blend of piercing groove metal riffing with those amazing horns. "Memoirs of a Roadkill" is the one song devoid of metal, and is what I can only call acoustic funk.

Just like the album opened up with the mind-blowing "A Tap Dancer's Dilemma", it closes with the mind-blowing "Stratosphere Serenade". These were the first two songs I heard from the band, and what an introduction. It's hard enough to describe this album as a whole, but this last song especially, I'm at a loss for words. There's some amazing cello work, massive grooves, and beautiful vocals, but this is one that you'll just have to listen to yourself.

This is a tough album to talk about, because no matter what I write in my review, I can't do it true justice. I've made it pretty clear that I'm an old school metal and hard rock fan, most of my all time favorite albums are from the 70's, 80's and 90's. It takes a lot for an album from the 21st century to become one of my all time favorite albums. Clutch's Psychic Warfare did that simply by being an amazing all killer no filler old-school hard rock album, Chevelle's North Corridor did it by being a crushing dirge of alterna-sludge, and Diablo Swing Orchestra did that by being a game-changer that hasn't gotten the game to change yet. It takes two kinds of music that I hold dear to my heart, along with a bunch of other stuff, and just created an album that I never thought I was looking for. While DSO is still around doing stuff, they'll never be the same with the departure of vocalist Annlouice Wolgers. Who knows if swing metal will ever expand beyond DSO's sound. I sure hope it does, but if it doesn't, one thing can be said. Sing-Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious is a one-of-a-kind album, and there's really nothing like it. If you haven't heard this album, check it out with an open mind. In an era where amazing music from new bands is hard to find, make this an essential listen.


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