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

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.

GLYPTOGLOSSIO YOTTAANNUMS in the BYSS

Album · 2019 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Colin Marston (Behold… The Arctopus, Gorguts etc) debuted his avant-garde freakzoid project GLYPTOGLOSSIO in 2016 with a strange freeform style of metal that sounds like absolutely nothing else and while i thought it was so far out of the box that it would probably be a one off, turns out this is an ongoing project with more metal gibberish to be expressed! The new album YOTTAANNUMS in the BYSS continues the formless distorted guitar and bass riffs, spastic freeform drumming and the robotic narrations which put the avant-garde on steroids.

This one also consists of a mere two tracks but both tracks exceed are quite lengthy with the first track merely named “3” extending towards 19 minutes whereas the following “4” reaches over 15 minutes. The titles follow the titles “1” and “2” from the debut “GLYPTOGLO5510” which only had a running time of over 25 minutes. This one is a full-length of chaotic swirls of bass lines, non-musical guitar riffs and pummeling drums. The amount of effort to keep anything sounding like any established form of music is quite impressive.

Exercising the utter disregard of any sort of musical form, this project also lists the lyrics on the Bandcamp site which are as bizarrely surreal as the music(?) itself. While there is probably some cryptic themes expressed in all this madness, it’s not apparent reading the lyrics that there is any meaning at all. It is more likely that this project is to merely create a form of sonic bantering that is designed to be as surreal and detached from reality as possible and in that department it truly succeeds!

Despite the freeform gibberish that comes off as a bizarre musical Frankenstein with snippets of this and snippets of that, there are recognizable riffs, drum rolls, bass lines etc. There are also cowbells and other sound effects. The vocal style becomes somewhat tedious as the robotic monster voice remains monotonic and never deviates from its simple narrative role as swirls of chaos explode in the background.

If you thought Behold…The Arctopus was too much to handle then this will drive you insane. As someone hardened by weird concepts in the avant-garde and experimental sectors of the musical world, this is bizarre and alien even by my standards and can be questioned if this is music at all. There are no established patterns, no musical scales, no melodies and the whole thing comes off as a dissonant barrage of noisy guitar, bass and drums all striving to remain defiantly dissonant and ununified with almost hypnotic tortured monster vocals narrating Salvador Dali inspired poetry.

I’m not really sure if this is a band or just Marston flying his freak flag as high as possible. Whatever the case, this is weird for weird’s sake and will appeal to very few if anyone but for some reason i have an appetite for this kind of stuff now and again so i listen and imagine these sounds to be some sort of anthem for an alien robot A.I. army awaiting its attack on the galaxy and taking ultimate control. Since there is nothing tangible to latch onto, these sounds stimulate the imagination to construct some sort of explanation for its existence which is a psychological phenomenon that allows me to appreciate this. All i can say is that this is fucked up weirdo shit.

SIGH Heir to Despair

Album · 2018 · Avant-garde Metal
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voila_la_scorie
Though I’ve lived in Japan for nearly 20 years, I don’t know many Japanese metal bands, and until recently, I didn’t know Sigh either. Then within the space of about a week, not only was Sigh mentioned in two metal album discussion videos I watched on YouTube, but their album “Heir to Despair” showed up in a recommended albums message from Amazon. Being a sucker for album art, I ordered the album right after checking out whose album cover this painting graced. Then I made a quick visit to YouTube to make sure I hadn’t ordered something that would leave me dubiously scratching my chin.

The artwork really intrigued me. It has a very 1950’s/60’s, Showa” Japanese look to it. The woman is smiling as beautifully as though she were a star actress posing for a movie poster. And yet the plant she waters has withered and the room behind her looks not only austere but items on the floor and torn images on the walls suggest that someone had a serious freak out session in there. Word is the image and the album are about insanity? (The Japanese text translates directly to “Inheritor of despair”, by the way)

I had no idea about what music to expect except for that it would be metal. That Sigh cover black metal, avant-garde metal, progressive metal and more was unknown to me; however, before the album was over I could have guessed most of that myself. The music is speedy, melodic, symphonic at times, suggestive of power metal in a spot or two, and holds a fudge ton of progressive and odd bits to make sure that the album never becomes repetitive. One thing I’m very glad to hear is the variety of additional instruments, particularly traditional instruments like koto and shamisen, but also a good variety of other sounds and affects. Flute also figures in prominently in some tracks. The “Heresy” trilogy is the most exceptional moment on the album with distorted vocoder vocals, electronic effects, sounds and voices, and a liberal amount of creative editing used to great effect.

Actually, the whole album very masterfully weaves together such an eclectic melange of metal styles so that crunchy guitars yield to Eastern music for a space, flute delightfully plays along to distortion-enriched power chords, symphonic elements add the extra “umph” to some parts, accordion lends a folk feeling, and traditional Japanese instruments expand the soundscape further. As another reviewer stated, one never can be sure of where the next track will go or what will follow.

I’m not especially a fan of Japanese vocals in any popular music genre because I find them usually too similar in a predictable way. But here, the vocal styles and sounds I would expect from a Japanese metal band don’t remain stuck in a trench. They are principally black metal croaks but joined at times by growls. There are also chanted vocals and rapid fire, staccato utterances. Most of the lyrics are in Japanese for which I’m grateful as I sometimes cringe the way some vocalists struggle with English phonetics. (To give an example from another band, “I cross my heart / I cross my eyes” when “cross” was supposed to be “close”). Yet, to give praise where it’s due, none of the English on “Heir to Despair” has stood out for being poorly pronounced to my ears. Then again, I’ve mostly been enjoying the sounds of the music and vocals and haven’t concentrated on the lyrics.

Having never heard any other Sigh albums, I have nothing to compare this to. But I’m very impressed with the package presented here. I love an album of creative and diverse musical approaches, and the recording quality captures all the band’s efforts really well. It’s a delight to listen to this album!

SIGH Heir to Despair

Album · 2018 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
Sigh have been one of the most interesting Japanese bands for some time now, and here with their eleventh album they have taken another musical turn in their journey which may surprise some and will delight many. It is an album about insanity, and at first glance at the artwork that doesn’t make sense as surely the woman watering her flowers is smiling? Find a nice big version of the image and you will realise the plants are dying, it not already dead, and the room behind her is in chaos. Japanese band Sigh will release their eleventh studio album Heir to Despair on November 16 via Candlelight Records. The album is mostly sung in Japanese, which is very unusual for the band, while Mirai Kawashima used some Japanese traditional singing techniques and Kevin Kmetz, formerly of Estradasphere and master of the traditional Japanese instrument, the shamisen, is featured on several tracks. This definitely gives the band a very traditional feel.

While their last album, ‘Graveward’, contained some symphonic and orchestral elements, this has one has been inspired by progressive bands and contains plenty of vintage keyboards and flute as well as the riffing guitars we would normally expect. The band state they been paying attention to the likes Brainticket, Embryo, Agitation Free, Between, Gentle Giant, Os Mutantes, Modulo 1000 and Black Widow, which isn’t a list one can imagine ever seeing from a Japanese metal act. I love the sheer diversity of this album, one never knows what is coming next, either from the next song or even the next few bars of the song which is being played. One might imagine it to be incredibly challenging, but in fact it is actually a really easy album to listen to. I enjoyed it the first time I played it, and each time since then has allowed me to discover something else.

Sigh continue to move, change, and challenge both themselves and their fans, and this is an incredibly strong result on every level.

GRAAL Sigullum Naturae

Album · 1998 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
By the 1980s metal was an established force to be reckoned with and while Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were becoming household names, other bands were seeking more adventurous avenues to unleash their metallic fury upon. While Celtic Frost was the first extreme metal band to go hog wild into the avant-garde, other bands like Finland’s Funcunt and California’s Mr. Bungle were crafting ever more bizarre metal music. Once the 90s hit it seemed like the floodgates opened for alternative everything and suddenly bands like Old, Pan.Thy.Monium and Faxed Head were going into ever weirder places. While these bands were influential in a wild and woolly way, it was probably the Norwegian band Ved Buens Ende with the landmark album “Written In Waters.” that gave permission to the more extreme black and death metal bands to reach for the stars.

After that seminal release, avant-garde and experimental metal began to flourish all over the globe with bands like Japan’s Sigh and Lithuania’s Anubi popping up, but perhaps one of the absolutely strangest metal bands to have emerged from the 90s came from the unassuming city of Sumy located in the northeastern part of the Ukraine. The band GRAAL evolved from the experimental death metal band Brainstorm which released two demos and unleashed their one album SIGULLUM NATURAE in 1998 which seemed to be the year when avant-garde metal reached a new pinnacle with strange new works by Gorguts, Maudlin of the Well, Unexpect and !T.O.O.H! hitting the scene. However sometimes the strangest things come in strange unheard of places and in the case of GRAAL, they delivered one of the weirdest metal packages even to this very day.

Even after listening to this one, it’s not quite clear exactly what you just experienced. Yes, there are plenty of black and death metal elements going on throughout the 43 minute run but there are equal amounts of psychedelic and progressive rock, snippets of circus music, flamenco, freeform jazz and just weird atmospheric technical bizarreness turned up to 11. Despite the extremely weird nature of this one, it was still officially released on the Moon label although it has only been released once on cassette. The album can now be readily heard on Kitsch Magik’s Bandcamp page. Unlike the Mr Bungle albums that preceded which were more goofy and jovial, GRAAL crafted a strange brooding mix of dark ugliness despite the genres jumping around and time signature deviations firing off like AK-47s. Like Ved Buens Ende, dissonant melodies are a major element that accompanies the heavily distorted black metal guitars, shrieking vocals other extreme metal orthodoxies.

What’s completely against the grain on this one is the inclusion of flute runs which is a reflection of the band’s affinity with Krautrock and some have stated that Brainstorm was the epitome of Krautrock dressed in death metal clothing. Add to that the progressive rock tendencies to incorporate King Crimson styled jazz-rock into the context of say early Enslaved with thick atmospheric layers of sound clouding up the skies. Despite the rambling segments that can resemble the most tortuous constructs of avant-prog bands like Henry Cow, GRAAL still managed to keep things mostly fitting into the extreme metal territory by adding enough extreme metal riffing and brutality to keep things from completely spiraling out of control which displayed a fair amount of restraint considering at many moments the album sounds as if it will completely derail into complete formless noise.

This one is really too weird for words. It must be experienced to be understood and not just once. For all its weirdness it makes me think of some sort of mushroom worshipping black metal band would come up with after one too many psychedelic trips, where all the lines between the psychedelic 60s and the extreme metal 90s suddenly merge in the timelines and this is the result. This will surely be too weird for many who like a sense of pattern recognition handy to process the musical procession but for those who crave the most deranged and depraved sorts of metal music that there is to be heard then this one will satisfy that craving for sure.

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