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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avant-garde metal Music Reviews

THY CATAFALQUE Sublunary Tragedies

Album · 1999 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
THY CATALFALQUE has been going strong now for over 20 years and continues to find new refreshing ways to reinvent itself with each subsequent album but yet retains a distinct avant-garde style that sounds like no other. The project is basically the artistic endeavors of Tamás Kátai (vocals, keyboards, guitar, bass) who has led the project through the decades with an ever-changing cast of guest musicians however János Juhász (guitar, bass) was also considered a full member during his tenure from 1998-2011. The duo formed THY CATAFALQUE in Makó, Hungary but since then the project has moved to Edinburgh, Scotland. The term CATAFALQUE refers to a decorated platform or framework on which a coffin rests in state during a funeral which is the perfect moniker for this unique darkened band that mixes filthy aggressive black metal with industrial and ambient sounds along with healthy doses of homegrown Hungarian folk.

While Kátai has incrementally increased the sophistication of THY CATALFALQUE and thus earning the project the highest plaudits within the world of extreme metal for its sheer intensity and experimentation, the band began more or less as a second wave black metal band with symphonic and orchestral touches much in the vein of early Emperor only with a unique paprika fueled Hungarian twist that included a touch of the avant-garde. This debut album SUBLUNARY TRAGEDIES displays the band at its rawest and primeval with ferocious black metal riffs engaging in breakneck tremolo picking, explosive blastbeat drumming frenzies all drenched in Hungarian folklore and rhapsodies on fire. While the black metal aspects are perhaps the most fiery and frenetic of the project’s lengthy career, the more diverse elements emerge from the extensive use of keyboards that not only provide the darkened frigid atmospheres but also includes industrial heft as well as danceable electronica.

SUBLUNARY TRAGEDIES is a powerhouse of seven tracks that creates the ultimate Jekyll & Hyde musical scenario. On the black metal side, this is frenetic uptempo fury that is unleashed and sounds like a rabid dog on fire much like the first Possessed album however there are slow contemplative atmospheric brooding sessions as well as middle of the road mid-tempo variations. While the atmospheric black metal tones and timbres are fairly standard, the underpinnings of Hungarian folk music that is infused in the musical scales gives an eerie and exotic flair that allows the compositions to feel more epic than say the standard Darkthrone or Immortal albums. The metal is brutal and raw yet the album comes off as if it were a Bartok sort of classical album in many ways. The two aspects are at war with no clear resolution as to which side actually prevails. It is the dance of darkness and light much like the universe above and around. While the metal stampedes like a standard second wave band from Scandinavia, the time signatures and progressive touches take it somewhere else completely.

While THY CATAFALQUE has become world renowned for the exemplary releases that peaked from “Tűnő Idő Tárlat” to “Rengeteg,” these earlier recordings are just as compelling provided you can appreciate the lo-fi DIY efforts of an ambitious avant-garde black metal band during its nascency. While many metalheads either love the lo-fi no nonsense approach or prefer the more polished sounds of a production job, i actually embrace both sides of the equation. Black metal is one of those genres that can sound really outstanding either way and in the case of THY CATAFALQUE i think that these early lo-fi albums resonate just as well as the slicker accomplishments that followed. After all, it’s the compositional skills that really win me over with this band and in that department THY CATAFALQUE hit the ground running with its unique folk fueled orchestral black metal sound. After all is said and done, i find SUBLUNARY TRAGEDIES to be an outstanding slab of experimental black metal that shouldn’t be missed if you have already checked out the later albums.

DØDHEIMSGARD A Umbra Omega

Album · 2015 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Out of all the black metal bands to emerge from the Norwegian scene in the 90s perhaps none have strayed so far from its roots as has Oslo’s DØDHEIMSGARD and while not exactly the most prolific band having only released a mere five albums and one EP since its 1994 formation, nevertheless continues to sporadically release some of the most challenging and bizarre avant-garde metal releases that still retain the black metal template which launched their existence. The band which has had numerous lineup changes since its formation has had as many stylistic shifts culminating in the innovative industrial / black metal hybrids of “666 International” and “Supervillain Outcast.” The former was released all the way back in 2007 and then the band seemingly fell off the face of the Earth but in reality was slowly conjuring up its biggest surprise of all, namely 2015’s fifth full-length release A UMBRA OMEGA (In The Shadow Of Omega).

This is an entirely new lineup for DØDHEIMSGARD with only founding member Vicotnik still around over twenty years later and the result is truly an entirely new sound that takes black metal into even stranger more challenging extremes. This is an album that i had to wait several years to fully grasp as it eluded me for the first few listens, a feat that is almost non-existent in my reality since as a music nerd i’m fairly quick to latch onto musical challenges but despite the fairly accessible opening hooks that exist on A UMBRA OMEGA, the album delivers a labyrinthine system of alternating between high octane black metal outbursts (usually at the beginning of the six tracks and then revisited) along with a mix of everything from post-metal sounding segments, Floydian space rock, classical piano runs and even trip hop amongst others. While not the first to employ such adventurous tactics of juggling disparate genres, the beauty of A UMBRA OMEGA is how seamlessly integrated all these extra touches are stitched together and add a perfectly polished production job and you will be treated to a perfect avant-garde metal delivery if only you have the patience to allow this near impenetrable fortress of sound to open its gates for your arrival.

Like any album that excels in complexities rarely reached in a musical format, A UMBRA OMEGA is one that requires 100% of your attention being focused on every intricate development of the musical flow. If this music is thrown on willy nilly as background music then this will sound like utter gibberish. The six tracks meander all over the place but the melodic development does provide a stream of consciousness which threads it all together so this album isn’t as impenetrable as some of the most extreme examples of avant-prog or some of the avant-jazz fueled brutal prog out there. This one almost sounds like it was constructed like an electronica album that implements changes in tone clusters and timbres dressed up in musical styles to convey its message. The tracks start out with bombastic black metal fueled tremolo guitar riffs and blastbeats but after a while they dissolve into more surreal passages that generate electronic fueled space rock accompanied by classical piano. Perhaps even stranger yet is the weird shared vocal styles of Vicotnik and Aldrahn’s semi-spoken heartfelt lyrical deliveries that literally sounds like nothing else i’ve ever heard.

This is definitely a case of a band going for the art rock jugular as this is a truly challenging listening experience where every sonic addition is a stroke on a magnanimous musical canvas where no compromise is made for the sake of the non-musical types out there who don’t embrace the pinnacle of artistic evolution and while the whole project may come off a bit self-indulgent and disconnected from the pulse of the commercial metal scene, that’s exactly the point. This is the type of musical project that is targeted for those interested in hearing something hitherto unexperienced. After a few years of letting this one sink in, i can only conclude that this is a work of genius and continues the intermittent legacy of Norway’s weirdest extreme metal band in perfect form. Clearly DØDHEIMSGARD is a musical project that emphasizes quality over quantity and with A UMBRA OMEGA, the band produced its most intricately sophisticated oeuvre to date. Although Aldrahn departed in 2016, a new album has been purported to be in the making. Where will this strange band go next? It is futile to even attempt such a prediction. Simply wait patiently and find out when that day comes.

ESTRADASPHERE Buck Fever

Album · 2001 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Out of all the bands to find Mr Bungle as the primary influence in their genre skipping schizoid madness to making music, perhaps none was more successful in its endeavors than the Santa Cruz, CA based ESTRADASPHERE and after the band’s debut “It’s Understood,” the band returned the very next year to unleash its second electric cauldron of every genre and the kitchen sink in the form of BUCK FEVER. And if the comparisons to Bungle and its offspring project Secret Chiefs 3 weren’t already apparent then the production help of Trey Spruance on this sophomore album will only cement the connection but after all several members had already played with Spruance so the family reunion continues.

The debut album already displayed a knack for unbridled ferocity in genre skipping, fusion blending and the drop of the hat schizoid shifts from relaxing massage music to death metal and everywhere in between. BUCK FEVER continues all of this and takes it all even further by covering several styles of jazz, klezmer, surf rock, doo-wop, chiptune video game music, disco, funk, avant-prog and three styles of metal: black, death and grindcore. The entire album is the genre purists nightmare come true and the most representative successor of the Bungle legacy after that band’s retirement in 2000. The band who plays on BUCK FEVER consists of only five musicians but between them they cover a whopping 40 plus instruments which gives this album a rather busy sound.

It all starts off with a title track that that alone covers many ground but remains in a 60s sort of surf rock mode with Bungle’s “California” album as a prime source of inspiration with catchy booty shaking dance grooves, kitschy 60s pop charm and a horn section that’s on fire during the uptempo swings. The tracks vary considerably as “The Dapper Bandits” jumps into Balkan gypsy jazz number but finds itself wending and winding through jittery progressive time signature shifts and even a polka section. The next track is one of my favorites, the atmospheric black metal “The Silent Elk of Yesterday,” with haunting female vocals and arpeggiated psychedelic guitars leading in the melodic blasts of heavy guitar riffs. It’s more like a mix of black, alternative and classic 80s metal with sizzling solos and eerie ambience.

After the black metal bombast, “Crag Lake” is a cute little 8-bit chiptune video game track that reminds me of Frogger as the little froggie hopped up the lily pads to get to the other side. “Meteor Showers” jumps back into a very experimental Balkan gypsy jazz / polka track but also mixes in some metal, chiptune and ska but ends as a 60s Baroque pop track in the vein of the Beach Boys complete with excellent harmonies by many of the members along with an authentic sax solo. These guys can really pull it all off effortlessly. “The Bounty Hunter” is another jazzy Balkan folk track, “Super Buck ii” is a lounge jazz cover of the Super Mario Bros 2 video game theme and a damn good cover as well! “Millennium Child” reminds me of the Mike Patton ballads on the Bungle “California” album except Dave Murray dishes out blastbeats most of the duration.

“Trampoline Klan” is yet another chiptune track. “Burnt Corpse” is a very short burst of brutal death metal immediately followed by another cheery 30s jazz styled number in “Rise N Shine.” “Bride of the Buck” has a spoken narration over new age keyboards and my vote for the worst track on the album. “A Very Intense Battle” is the longest track on the album at 8:40 and starts off with a heavy muddled mix of keyboards, guitars, bass and drums and some spoken narrative in the background. It evolves into a grindcore / death metal hybrid with atmospheric keyboards and progressive time signatures zigzagging every now and again. As the title suggests, it is indeed very intense. “Green Hill” is another chiptune track and at this point one too many. In fact by the time i get to this part of the album it feels too long as neither the disco fueled gypsy jazz number “Feed Your Mama’s Meter” nor the finale “What Deers May Come” with a silly skit about the theme seem like filler.

Overall ESTRADASPHERE cranked out an excellent followup as they navigated through the genre list like pros but the repetition of certain ideas ruin the surprise factor and the length of the album should’ve been trimmed to around 45 minutes and this would’ve been a much more effective experience but for the most part this is quite the enjoyable slice of Bungle fever taken into the next century and proves that this band has all the chops and sense of humor to pull it off however due to the album’s inconsistency in no way dethrones the Bunglers from their perch as quirkiest prog artist since Zappa. This will surely not appeal to everyone since you have to be able to hang with the myriad genres that are juggled but for those of us who love left field twists and turns to who knows where then you can’t go wrong with ESTRADASPHERE and BUCK FEVER is a worthy successor to the eclectic wild ride of the debut.

THY CATAFALQUE Tűnő idő tárlat

Album · 2004 · Avant-garde Metal
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Warthur
Thy Catafalque's Tűnő Idő Tárlat takes the electronic dabbling of the preceding Microcosmos even further, with some sections resembling full-on electronic dance music - but fear not, the Hungarian folk and black metal influences that inform subsequent and previous works by the group are rarely all that far off. The end result is a sort of black metal-via-Nine Inch Nails blend, with the abrasive elements of black metal somehow reconciled with the more catchy end of the industrial music spectrum. Thy Catafalque are juggling an awful lot of different ideas here, and whilst they don't quite bring them all together into a single whole, they come close enough that this is a notable success.

DEATH NAZAR Death Nazar

Album · 2015 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
The former Soviet Union nations that once existed in isolation away from Western influences has become a hotbed of activity in the 21st century with metal music being one of the greatest exports from both Russia and the Urkaine. Add to the list in addition to an ever growing roster of exemplary black and death metal bands is a legion of experimental bands that has found hitherto unthinkable ways of mixing and melding metal to different musical styles unknown to Western ears.

One of these unorthodox bands is DEATH NAZAR all the way from Irkutsk, Russia which sits next to the majestic Lake Baikal which incidentally happens to be the home of the world’s only fresh water seal! Named after the eye-shaped amulet that is believed to project against the evil eye, this act is simply a duo that consists of vocalist Igor Shestakov and Evgeny Boyko who pretty much covers everything else!

That “everything else” includes not only the guitar and drum programming but also the clarinet, yes, i did just write the clarinet! DEATH NAZAR is utterly unique in the metal world as far as i know in that they combine both alternative and death metal with traditional Jewish music known as klezmer. Sound weird enough for you? Well, it’s not as strange as it sounds actually. On this eponymously titled album we get seven tracks, most of which combine a rather alternative metal approach with a few death metal outbursts accompanied by a klezmer styled clarinet performance.

Given the klezmer influences this music is highly melodic and ethnically upbeat but doesn’t gel as well as bands like Secret Chiefs 3 and Estradasphere have successfully tackled when they have incorporated world ethnic influences into a heavier rock and metal paradigm. What’s good about this album is that all the tracks are highly melodic and easily accessible even upon first listen despite the overall tag of avant-garde metal.

What’s sort of irritating is that Shestakov sounds like Mike Patton on Faith No More’s earlier albums for the majority of the album complete with the same nasal vocal style and phrasings. There are the occasional death growls that emerge out of nowhere and the guitars range from alternative metal riffing to heavy death and thrash bombast. No matter which aspect of metal is churning out, the clarinet continues to add the ethnic touches without deviating from its traditional roles. Some sizzling guitar solos do occur.

The standout track is the misplaced “Messenger of Fate” which sounds nothing like the others. This one features an acoustic strummed guitar style with the guest female vocals of Ekaterina Kuznetsova who sings passionately but the track sounds more like an Alanis Morrisette ballad at the synagogue more than anything else on this album. This DEATH NAZAR release is short one at just over 32 minutes but after it’s all done i think i’ve had enough.

This is an interesting mix for sure and the stylistic approach isn’t the problem at all but rather the deliveries. Shestakov’s vocals fall flat a lot of the time and start to sound a little too one trick pony after all is said and done. The band has hit upon an excellent mash up of genres but clearly hasn’t mastered them. This sounds more like an amateurish demo despite the decent production value. The duo clearly hasn’t quite found a way to creatively mix and meld the disparate styles. A decent start but one that is flawed in too many ways to really recommend this except as a novel curiosity of an experimental band from a remote region of the globe.

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