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

WRECHE Wreche

Album · 2017 · Avant-garde Metal
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adg211288
A haunting piano starts up, accompanied by numerous sound effects, especially creaking noises. It's an eerie intro track called Pruning the Spirit on Wreche (2017), the self-titled debut album of of this US duo. It's known that the group is supposed to play black metal, so for the one and a half minutes long track we wait for the inevitable, sudden assault of raw, distorted guitars...

...only it doesn't come. The track changes. This second one is called Angel City and it's indeed the first proper song on the album. Only the guitars don't show up. Why? Because there aren't any on this record at all. The band isn't even one of those bass driven ones, because there's none of those either. Wreche set out to create black metal with just three things. Vocals, drums, and piano. And by piano, they mean proper piano, sans any effects to imitate the distortion of a lead guitar. It would be easy to compare this to the work of Botanist who did a similar thing with hammered dulcimers, but Botanist has used bass and distorted their hammered dulcimers. Another artist this exists close to is Les Chants du Hasard, who applies black metal vocal to classical music. Unlike Wreche though, Les Chants du Hasard doesn't attempt to make its instrumentation actually sound like black metal as well. Wreche take the concept of throwing out the guitars to a whole other level.

It really shouldn't work, yet it does. It may not be heavy in the usual sense, but it's amazing how well traditional black metal rhythms can translate to the piano. The playing by John Steven Morgan is certainly amazing. Can it really be called metal? That's up for debate for sure and if it can count then it's surely better described as avant-garde, despite otherwise capturing the same essence as black metal and vocally even pushing on the boundaries of depressive black metal, especially during Angel City. Those are some really tortured and miserable vocals from John Steven Morgan there. That's actually in real contrast to the lively music heard in the three main songs Angel City, Fata Morgana and Vessel. The other member Barret Baumgart (also of Blood of Martyrs) drums away while all this is going on, but it's clear who the star of the show is here.

But is it really any good or just a novelty? Well, after a little while it does tend to get a bit samey. An ironic criticism I'm sure since such can undoubtedly be said of a lot of pure black metal records, or any genre for that matter, but it does feel as if Wreche has this one trick and once you've heard it you start to wonder what else they've got, because it quickly becomes clear that they've built everything they have upon it. Fortunately the album only runs for 33:32 minutes, so its not excessively long, but it does start to get a bit tedious even so, despite the accomplished piano playing. It would help I think if each track were a little more distinct (Petals is basically an interlude running for over three minutes, featuring slow, regular piano playing, so it doesn't count).

Much like with the aforementioned Les Chants du Hasard, this record ultimately leaves me wishing that instead of this business of basically saying 'hey, listen to what we can do' that the artists would apply these atypical interests to a proper black metal context. The guitar is the backbone of metal. We may enjoy the odd bass driven band such as Völur or Bell Witch, but most of us metalheads like our guitars. We're unlikely to listen to something that purposely throws them away too often. That at least is how I feel at the conclusion of Wreche. It's interesting, good in moderation, but now that I've written this review for it don't intend to revisit it for quite a long time. But if what I've heard here was applied to a normal black metal sound? Now that really sounds intriguing. Sign me right up.

ORTHRELM OV

Album · 2005 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
The metal universe has always been about borrowing disparate ideas and methodologies from other varied musical genres from all around the world. After all, the whole genre began by taking the psych laden blues rock of the 60s and dragging it down into the darker recesses of the sound spectrum to conjure up some of the most gloomy and sombre human emotions to emerge in its wake and simply cranking up the distortion level with darker lyrics. So it’s really no surprise that as the simple blues inspirations became exhausted in the 70s that new fuel needed to be consumed for the metal machine to take musical inspiration and ignite so it will burn like a forest fire unleashing new hitherto unthinkable possibilities. ORTHRELM, the avant-garde music duo of Mick Barr on guitar and Josh Blair on drums had been leading up to this triumph of sonic glory called OV since their debut in 2001. While the metal world cross-pollinated like a lava flow smothering the fertile lands below a volcano it continued to ratchet up its complexity level and as it began to reach the unthinkable heights of the pinnacle of progressive rock, it was beginning to seem like there was nowhere left to go.

That’s where forward thinkers like Mick Barr come in. On ORTHRELM’s 2005 landmark album OV, the duo exponentially lifted themselves above the sheer math rock wankery that their earlier albums are known for. While classical music has certainly been a major part of the hard rock and heavy metal universe ever since Ritchie Blackmore incorporated it into Mark II period of Deep Purple, never before have the two extremes of virtuoso guitar shredding and the classical minimalism of artists like Steve Reich and Philip Glass ever come together until Barr and Blair released this album of polarizing extremes in the form of the OV album in 2005. Never before has an album of incredibly virtuoso shredding of guitar with the bombast of unthinkable drum abuse coalesced into a minimalistic music form that could result in a meditative practice if consumed correctly. As wild as it sounds, this album is in effect a wild ride into two musical extremes which incorporate guitar shredding with extreme minimalism simultaneously.

Despite being limited to a mere guitar and drums, Barr and Blair are veritable beasts on their instruments of choice doing unthinkable things at a million miles per second throughout pretty much the entirety of the 45 minute and 43 second single track that makes up the album OV. After several albums of pluming their feathers and ruffling them up to impress the music fans, on OV, the duo known as ORTHRELM finally delivers the promise they had been hinting at without sacrificing the intensity that they had been implementing all along. What’s cool about OV is that it goes through a series of passages that begin with a minimalistic chord progression to wail on for several minutes and seduce you into the feel of the composition and going though various changes before finally letting loose towards the end with a series of intense riffs, shredding bombast and excruciating deciblage. This is metal unlike any other and only continues the duo’s unique musical language that only they alone truly understand.

OV is a trumph in many ways. Not only does it undoubtedly indoctrinate Mick Barr into the world of fastest shredders which should not leave Josh Blair off the hook for some of the sickest drum abuse in the entire music history books but also proves that creating unthinkable speeds is not tantamount to a lack of regard for sensuality. While on previous albums ORTHRELM did seem to generate random patterns of musical intensity, on OV everything seems like the perfect cross-pollination of the most intense musical shredding session one can think of in the context of a relaxing vipassana retreat. As the single track rolls by it is engaged in a very mindful interaction between the two instruments that change up the parts ever so slightly but then without warning they divert to some new arena of musicality but always mindful of each other’s role in the overall scheme of things. OV successfully ratchets up the tension to a fulfilling climax by the end of the album where the guitar and the drums practically become one with another and take on enough roles to simulate the intensity of a full band. OV is one of those albums that must be heard to be understood. It’s simply too far removed from the context of any possible labeling.

ORTHRELM II / II

Album · 2001 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
ORTHRELM made quite the debut in 2001 by not only releasing their first EP but also three albums as well. While the lengths may make one consider EP status, considering how technically crazed the music is makes it quite acceptable that they didn’t churn out over lengthy album. After two albums titled ORTHRELM I and ORTHRELM II comes the third installment with a brown-hued cover un-intuitively titled ORTHRELM II / II which like the second edition consists of 48 short tracks with most not even reaching the minute mark with only one clocking in at over two. The duo of Mick Barr on guitar and Josh Blair on drums continues to crank out some of the most aggressive combo of guitar shredding meets proggy math rock.

ORTHRELM II / II continues to follow the trajectory of the previous releases and like the No. II continues the punk-infused energy concentrated into short tracks but on II / II the duo branch out in the dynamics significantly more but not playing at the speed of light all the time. Untitled track #12, for example, is actually mostly slow and focuses on nerdy math rock time signatures for the first minute before exploding in pyroclastic math rock flows all over the place. While Barr and Blair began this project merely imitating each other on their respective instruments, at this point they’ve taken their roles by the horns and actually create separate but equal parts although they tend to remain in sync in regards to tempo. Track #21 kinda sounds like an atonal attempt at the classical artist Rimsky Korsakov’s “Flight Of The Bumblebee”

On this one they begin sounding more like the Japanese band Ruins as Barr tones down his incessant shredding and actually engages in more punk chord energy and more bass oriented riffing. In some ways they remind me of a stripped down Psyopus or Behold…. The Arctopus as the math metal elements are more prevalent. Personally i think this is the best they put out in the year as it contains all the shredding you could ask for and more, all the snazzy jazzy drumming possible and also more variety in not just compositional structure but how different segments flow within a track. While still very much only the interest of extreme music lover craving punky metal elements married with nerdy math rock, this one offers a bit more outside of the chaotic speedfest that ORTHRELM has made their own by developing their own musical paradigm. While this is much better in variety it still sounds limited due to only the guitar and drums as the sole instruments.

ORTHRELM II

Album · 2001 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
On ORTHRELM II, Mick Barr and Jason Blair focus more on 48 extremely short tracks with most not even hitting the minute mark but at least one over the unthinkable two. The punk influence is strong on this one because instead of Barr shredding like a crazed madman nonstop for every track all the time with Blair’s bombastic percussion along for the ride, these tracks are actually less frenetic (relatively speaking) to the previous releases however the technicalities of the math rock are more prevalent with more attention shown on the mindful meandering of the sonic storm into more patterned dynamics with Barr’s guitar parts used for special effects rather than simply shredding like it’s the end of the world.

One of the most noticeable developments from ORTHRELM I to ORTHRELM II is that Barr isn’t afraid to riff on the bass notes of his guitar and actually utilizes punkish power chords instead of incessant tinny treble shredding all the time. Likewise Blair has pushed his technicalities into more focused arenas that find more diverse colors in his percussive playing abilities. Perhaps the brevity of the tracks allows the speed to develop tracks more efficiently so that the members don’t feel they have to linger on in robotic monotony for too long and likewise when they are on fully fueled spastic mode where everything is whizzing around at a million miles per second, the tracks tend to be very short some with some lasting less than ten seconds. The 2 minute and 34 second 24th track stands out the most because it contains little frenetic chunks of chaos punctuated with silence before turning into the seemingly formless pummeling parts.

This is hardly the stuff of most music lovers’ dreams. This is reserved for only the most adventurous musical techies out there who crave the most extreme cross-pollinating features of brutal extreme metal with punishing prog math rock. I wouldn’t go as far as many in saying that this is void of all emotional content. That is never true of music. This is definitely not warm, fuzzy feel good music in any way and reflects a sense of bleakness and helplessness as if highly advanced technologies have suddenly taken over the planet. This is in the realms of the surreal where Barr and Blair have virtually created their own musical lexicon with a syntax spoken by no other therefore the music will come across like listening to poetry in an obscure indigenous language that has never been heard before. For those into divorcing everything familiar, this is an interesting ride indeed but at the same time the monotony of only two instruments is what keeps this from being totally exciting in my book.

ORTHRELM I

Album · 2001 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
ORTHRELM I picks up after the debut and develops the song structures significantly. Whereas “Iorxhscimtor” focused primarily on Mick Barr’s extraordinary shredding skills and Jason Blair’s bombastic drumming style, little emphasis was placed on the math rock infused compositions. While that EP debuted the duo’s idiosyncratic musical language that will remind you of no other, ORTHRELM I creates a more varied palette of musical madness despite everything being on extreme hyperactivity mode with ceaseless shredding and skin pounding. The production is also of better value with less of a harsh noise intensity and a somewhat more smoothed out veneer.

Barr has stated in an interview that this music reflects the chaoticness of infinitely small and represents the quantum jumps of molecules at the most fundamental level of the construction of the physical universe. If there were to be any comparison at all it would have to be with the Japanese band Ruins who for the most part are also a noisy duo trying to create some of the harshest and unorthodox music chaos possible. ORTHRELM simply takes this same approach and injects it with steroids, cocaine, crystal meth and gallons of caffeine. This music is a nonstop math rock shredfest that is totally designed for the most unnerving reactions and a display case for the inhuman physical prowess of the two members hammering out some of the most intense sonic destruction possible.

While the magnitude of these two playing this stuff is thoroughly impressive, i can only feel that it sounds incomplete with only two band members. I would prefer to hear other instruments whizzing about creating unthinkable counterpoints that take the music to another level since only two instruments whizzing about at full speed becomes a bit monotonous. Yes, i’m a lover of extreme music of all forms and virtuosity is a sign of high art. ORTHRELM succeeds in creating high art at a low level meaning they opt for an intentional lo-fi DIY operation that takes some of the most disciplined skills in the musical kingdom and divert them into a form of controlled chaos. Extremely impressive but not something that beckons a return listen often.

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