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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KAYO DOT Hubardo Album Cover Hubardo
KAYO DOT
4.49 | 20 ratings
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SIGH Imaginary Sonicscape Album Cover Imaginary Sonicscape
SIGH
4.43 | 30 ratings
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DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA Sing Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious Album Cover Sing Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious
DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA
4.37 | 28 ratings
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ARCTURUS The Sham Mirrors Album Cover The Sham Mirrors
ARCTURUS
4.32 | 55 ratings
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GUAPO Black Oni Album Cover Black Oni
GUAPO
4.58 | 6 ratings
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KAYO DOT Choirs Of The Eye Album Cover Choirs Of The Eye
KAYO DOT
4.25 | 54 ratings
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ARCTURUS La Masquerade Infernale Album Cover La Masquerade Infernale
ARCTURUS
4.22 | 43 ratings
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SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM Of Natural History Album Cover Of Natural History
SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM
4.21 | 38 ratings
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MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Leaving Your Body Map Album Cover Leaving Your Body Map
MAUDLIN OF THE WELL
4.16 | 50 ratings
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MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Bath Album Cover Bath
MAUDLIN OF THE WELL
4.14 | 57 ratings
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GUAPO Five Suns Album Cover Five Suns
GUAPO
4.40 | 6 ratings
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DØDHEIMSGARD A Umbra Omega Album Cover A Umbra Omega
DØDHEIMSGARD
4.39 | 6 ratings
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avant-garde metal Music Reviews

THE MEADS OF ASPHODEL Running Out Of Time Doing Nothing

Album · 2019 · Avant-garde Metal
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Kev Rowland
The Meads of Asphodel was a project conceived by singer Metatron in 1998, and over the years they have been through some different line-ups but they he is currently joined by J.D Tait (guitars, vocals, keyboards, bass) and André Kjelbergvik Thung (drums). They also include multiple guest musicians of whom the most well-known is Hawkwind’s Alan Davey who plays bass on four numbers. Musically it is all over the place, mostly in a good way, mixing genres in a way I don’t think I’ve ever heard before. The result is an album which I honestly can’t imagine anyone saying they really enjoy every song, I know I don’t. I have real issues with “I Stood Tiptoe, Reaching Up For Heaven”. They obviously thought it was a great idea to play news clips of discussions on ISIS, terrorism, people being killed, Jimmy Saville, all with a laugh track over the top. From there they move into a dance track which just doesn’t interest me whatsoever.

The band are one of the very few I have seen who have a mission statement on their website, which reads “Experimental extreme metal band The Meads of Asphodel believe in all peoples right to live in peace, free from the shackles of inflicted dogma & servitude”. One has to agree with that statement, and there are undoubtedly some interesting songs on this album for fans of Hawkwind, Robert Calvert and the idiosyncrasies of GWAR, but the humour and approach is not something I can come to terms with.

DIVINA ENEMA At The Conclave

Album · 2000 · Avant-garde Metal
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UMUR
"At the Conclave" is the debut full-length studio album by Belarus, Minsk based avant garde/progressive metal act Divina Enema. The album was released through the Canadian label Great White North Records (or rather through subdivisions of the label) in 2000. Divina Enema was formed by lead vocalist Yaroslav A. Burakoff in 1998.

Stylistically the material on the 6 track, 46:28 minutes long album is a very eclectic type of metal. Avant garde/progressive metal probably isn´t the worst description of the music, but of course such a description should be explained a bit more in detail. It´s overall a highly theatrical form of music with elements from goth, black, death, progressive, and symphonic metal. In addition to guitars, bass, drums, and vocals, the instrumentation also includes piano/keyboards, violin, cello, and tenor-sax. Lead vocalist Yaroslav A. Burakoff has a varied vocal arsenal to say the least. He often sings in a high pitched voice, which is quite similar in style to the high pitched singing by King Diamond, but he also uses a deeper goth type vocal style, and both death metal growling and black metal screaming. His phrasing is theatrical/paatos filled and his vocals are probably what you´d call an aquired taste. But no one can take away from him, that he is an incredibly skilled singer.

The rest of the band are well playing too. The tracks are all relatively long and go through many transitions/structural changes and even after many spins they can be a bit hard to tell apart. "At the Conclave" feels a lot like listening to one long track with many different sections and changes. And it is in the songwriting department where I think Divina Enema lacks a bit. They are obviously skilled composers, but I don´t think the music is particularly memorable. The fact that the sound production isn´t the most powerful either (the drums feature an odd tone, and the guitars lack punch) isn´t helping the album either. So upon conclusion "At the Conclave" is what I´d characterize as an interesting album, but not a great album. Still there are enough quality here to warrant a 3 star (60%) rating.

MR. BUNGLE Mr. Bungle

Album · 1991 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Very few albums have had life changing impacts on me, hitting me at a pivotal point in my life and actually succeeded in blowing my mind upon first listen, but Eureka, CA produced one of the craziest, most bizarre and schizoid bands ever to exist. MR BUNGLE has gained a cult status since this self-titled debut sprang itself onto an unsuspecting public back in 1991 but at the time, there was absolutely NOTHING that existed that was this spastic and bonkers and spun the circle of musical genres like Vanna spinning letters on Wheel of Fortune.

While the band had its origins all the way back in the 80s and started out as a death metal band, somewhere along they line they adopted a funk metal approach as the canvas to paint their surrealistic visions upon. Infused with a DIY punk ethos, MR BUNGLE sprang from nowhere and pummeled the music world with the craziest mix of punk, funk, heavy metal, jazz, ska and even circus music all shaken n’ stirred in a big steaming cauldron of avant-garde. I, personally as well as the rest of the world at large for that matter, would never be the same.

For those only familiar with Mike Patton in Faith No More, it must’ve come as a real shock upon hearing the debut MR BUNGLE album. For anyone expecting a similarly styled mix of melodic keyboard infused alternative metal, expectations were quickly shot down by Patton’s true restless and creative nature. Ironically it was Patton’s huge success with Faith No More that allowed the BUNGLE project to evolve out of the obscure underground stage to the big budget extravaganza that appeared on a huge record label like Warner Bros.

The BUNGLERS were a sextet which at this stage consisted of Mike Patton "Vlac Drac" (vocals), Trey Spruance "Scummy" (guitar), Theobald Brooks Lengyel (alto & baritone saxes), Clinton McKinnon "Bär" (tenor sax), Trevor Dunn (bass) and Danny Heifetz (drums). In addition to the main team was David Shea who provided renegade turntables, several backing vocalists and even a cameo with Patton’s idol John Zorn who provided an sizzling psychotic sax solo on “Love Is A Fist.” The album was a frenetic free for all yet crafted some of the catchiest melodies to reel you in before it took you on a wild roller coaster ride.

The album pulls no punches. The very first track “Quote Unquote” (originally titled “Travolta” but changed for legal reasons) smacks you in the face with a demented keyboard leading the way as Patton provides the role as the carnival barker with his twisted surreal lyrics about whatever came to mind. The groove ties it all together as the track shape shifts into psychedelia, heavy metal bombast and back to the original psycho-circus music that begins it. “Slowly Growing Deaf” gets even more wild and crazy and displays the band’s love of hairpin musical twists that allow frenetic Fishbone styled funk metal to immediately turn into molasses slow space rock and then bombastic alternative metal heft. The part where the song falls into a deep space rock trance and is punctuated by a few seconds of heavy metal bombast is startling and hilarious!

“Squeeze Me Macaroni” not only wins for the most twisted nursery rhyme funk metal tune of all time but also displays Patton’s ability to rap and roll on steroids like no one else in the rock world. The lyrics are goofy and as ridiculous as one could possibly imagine all backed up an incredible rhythm section and tons of sound effects to provide the proper cartoon effect. “Carousel” is the best example of circus metal i’ve ever heard with a hopping circus groove and a sizzling swing jazz section that adds some metal guitar heft and a demented clown feel and the track that most adequately represents the album cover by Dan Sweetman which is a character published in a DC Comics story called “A Cotton Candy Autopsy.” Oh i forgot to mention the random bouts of surf rock!

“Egg” is a bass driven funk metal phenomena that tackles the eternal question of which came first: the chicken or the egg? Fortified with lots of funky grooves, a series of la-la-la’s and horse truths of life decorated in humor, the funk sections are periodically interrupted by strange progressive outbursts of psychedelic rock, avant-garde angularities and ends with a lengthy mishmash of references to the Wizard of Oz with Patton shouting “There’s No Place Like Home” which alternates with a number of avant-garde silliness. The perfect example of an album where juvenile potty mouth snot-nosed brat antics fuse perfectly with top-notch professional progressive rock technical musicianship. If one thing is clear at the half point of the album is that if you’re not laughing your ass off, then you clearly lack the proper mental tools to appreciate this whacked out masterpiece!

“Stubb (A Dub)” is no less frenetic but is a much more serious affair displaying the bipolar nature of the album. It laments the loss of Patton’s childhood pet while also showcasing some bizarre virtuosic Frank Zappa inspired avant-prog workouts. “My Ass Is On Fire” is an angular jittery punk infused metal track that alternates with a TV theme song type of funk groove. “The Girls Of Porn” jumps into the world of smut and begins with a snippet of a 1950s puppet show about MR BUNGLE, from which the band adopted its name. It’s starts as a pure funk track but later adds elements of metal and of course plenty of samples from porno flicks! “Love Is A Fist” is the heaviest metal piece on board with frenetic guitar driven fury but never loses the funk connection with the rest of the tracks as it also has slower spaced out echoey parts. John Zorn joins in for a spectacular mind-blowing sax workout that is scary enough to exorcise demons!

Perhaps the strangest track on the whole album (and THAT’s saying a lot!) is the finale “Dead Goon.” This track is like hearing music from another dimension. It’s absolutely so outside the box that there is really nothing to compare to. Not only on this album but anywhere really. It starts off in a noisy haze but then adopts a carnivalesque groove that offers strange twisted counterpoints to the bass groove. Patton’s delivers weird gnarled vocals and the build ups drift off into avant-garde jazz turf with a soulful vocal performance. It’s not that it’s not wonderful catchy as hell but extremely unorthodox in how the parts are put together. Somehow despite all odds it works. And that’s pretty much the same for the entire album really and as the album ends and then floats around through different disparate soundscapes, it leaves you wondering what the hell you just heard.

This album still blows me away as much as it did the first time. It’s the kind of album that totally catches you off guard while it seduces you and then if you haven’t run away scared to mommy, it continues to deliver different aspects of its true nature. The questions immediately arise. Were these guys aliens? Possessed by demons? On some really weird drugs? Who knows but one thing is clear. The guys in MR BUNGLE succeeded in creating a ridiculously technical progressive rock and metal masterpiece that was guaranteed to offend everyone’s sensibilities as its goal was to deconstruct all the orthodoxies and programming and shatter all preconceptions. It certainly worked for my young impressionable mind and now decades after it’s release, it still blows me away except on an artistic level. Quite possibly the weirdest album in existence and the fact that MR BUNGLE pulled it off so amazingly well is simply a miracle. The true 21st century schizoid men have stood up!

SECRET CHIEFS 3 Book M

Album · 2001 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
When the debut album by SECRET CHIEFS 3 came to light in 1996, the project which was an extension of creative mastermind Trey Spruance's fertile imagination seemed like a one-off project where the cross-pollinating effects of Western and Middle Eastern musical styles could duke it out under the banner of mutilated surf rock and drum and bass techno. The album pretty much successfully covered as much ground as possible within the somewhat less overarching reach of the Mr. Bungle projects. Making it clear that tracks like "Techno Allah" on the "Disco Volante" album were spawned in the deep recesses of Spruance's psyche, the album pretty much nurtured every possible variation of that track and then some. However, the project was not quite finished as a second "Grand Constitution" in the form of "Hurqalya" was forged in the same molten cauldron of surf rock, breakcore, Arab folk music, progressive rock and psychedelia which abandoned the free-for-all head scratching moments of the debut and steered the project into a somewhat more focused stylistic approach however Bungle was still going strong and nobody could have guessed that SC3 would generate more life.

The new millenium arrived and Mr. Bungle released its final album "California" and then promptly called it quits which left Spruance with the freedom to indulge his wildest fantasies in his many side projects. While Faxed Head had reached its logical conclusion rather quickly the SECRET CHIEFS 3 project however conjured up a wealth of new stylistic cross-pollinating elements to be explored and in the process of searching through the misty brumes of the musical sounds of the Silk Road, Spruance continued the project and declared it his main gig as the ashes of Bungle were finally laid to rest. BOOK M emerged three years after "Hurqalya" and took all the disparate elements of that album and executed them into even more demanding instrumental gymnastics with unthinkably precise and wickedly cool production techniques. The fusion techniques of the previous albums had been flawlessly woven together like the highest quality Persian rug and the results were the next chapter of the mystical thematic world that simulates a long lost culture secretly ruled by the invisible mystics vibrating in a dimension just outside of our perceivable frequencies. These sounds culminated into one of the SC3's most magical albums that continued the Ennio Morricone film score feel in Spaghetti Middle Eastern form teased out with subtler hints of surf rock, chamber pop, avant-prog and modern Western classical majesty.

Thematically BOOK M can be thought of as the soundtrack to three volumes of mystical texts: "Observance Of The World," "Engagement Of The Sword" and "Ritual Of The Cup." While the Middle Eastern sounds that range from traditional Arabic folk and Persian scales to even touches of Indonesian, Indian, Celtic folk and gypsy swing, the tracks meander through various layers of tones and timbres with off-kilter time signatures, drum and bass electronic outbursts, surf rock undercurrents and bouts of renegade violin solos (courtesy of Eyvind King), heavy metal guitar heft, funk grooviness, psytrance electronica hyperactivity and appearances by fellow ex-Bunglers Danny Heifetz on drums and various ethnic percussive instruments and Bär McKinnon on saxophone. The entire run of the album's near 55 minute run is like a well executed journey through the mystical lands that evoke sonic representations of the magical beings encountered through the various ritualistic practices that evoke the timelessness of the folk aspects of the music. It's almost as if the timelines have merged and the relaxed acoustic ancient world has united with the electronic frenzied quickening of the modern 21st century where it is impossible to distinguish the origins of any particular element of the music.

Less anarchic than the previous two albums, BOOK M seamlessly exudes a true sense of multi-genre fusion rarely achieved in such a perfected manner by recycling past themes and advancing them into new epic arenas. The album truly comes off as the soundtrack to a film that has never existed yet evokes the mystic avenues of the mind where the crossroads are populated by the entire lexicon of the musical histories of planet Earth. Spruance proved on BOOK M that not only did SECRET CHIEFS 3 still have life in the project but that it could be elevated to extremely advanced levels carried out through the rigorousness of perfecting the production techniques and the meandering march of modulating magnificence. The brilliance of this album results from the fact that every detail is perfectly carried out but by how easy it is to sit for the entirety of this album time after time and never once find the slightest flaw or trace of boredom. SECRET CHIEFS 3 is truly a niche sort of band that is music for nerds who have heard it all before and crave something totally inventive and completely existing outside the box of the established orthodoxies of the music industry. Not only did Spruance demonstrate that he was one of the masterminds of the entire Bungle experience but made it clear once and for all that out of the ensemble of genii that made up Bungle that he was one of the top dogs in the creative madness that took the world by storm and still resonates high on the freak-o-meter even by today's standards. Another masterpiece by SC3 here!

KAYO DOT Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue

Album · 2006 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
After the original breakup of Maudlin of the Well, Toby Driver found a new direction to steer the avant-garde smorgasbord that mixed art rock, post-rock and progressive rock together in the cauldron with extra servings of extreme metal mixed into the pot but Driver didn’t waste any time putting together a new band that could carry these avant-garde tendencies to the next level. KAYO DOT was assembled in 2003 with Driver himself behind the steering wheel and a welcoming debut release called “Choirs Of The Eye’ on John Zorn’s Tzadik Records. Several Maudlin members also went along for the ride and together they created one of the most unique sounding albums of the entire 2000s. “Choirs Of The Eye” was part modern classical, part post-rock, part chamber music and part avant-garde metal. While the debut album caught the world’s attention and instantly brought KAYO DOT into spotlight at least in terms of the prog rock and metal underground, Driver decided to take the band into even stranger arenas from then on.

Arriving three years later, the surreally named DOWSING ANEMONE WITH COPPER TONGUE delivers the bizarre avant-garde fortitude that the title suggests. With a label jump to Robotic Empire Records, the band continued the intricately designed sprawling compositions and took them into even more bizarre and complex experimentation with a huge army of instrumentalists delivering an orchestra of bleak sonic oppression that exhibited a truly labyrinthine fusion of modern classical, avant-garde jazz, post-metal and chamber rock. It was clear that KAYO DOT’s instant popularity wasn’t heading in a more accessible direction and on the contrary DOWSING ANEMONE WITH COPPER TONGUE is one of those albums that requires a multitude of listening experiences preferable in a wide range of moods to really find its way under your skin but ultimately casts a long-lasting spell as it slowly sinks into your psyche like a parasitic hookworm!

While classified as metal, the heavier parts are intermittent with much focus on the slithering slow chamber rock and jazzy touches ratcheting up the tension in the same fashion as any good Godspeed! You Black Emperor style of apocalyptic post-rock however KAYO DOT’s sophomore album exudes a much more interesting turn of events with violin solos unleashing haunting melodies over a dark atmospheric backdrop of guitars, viola, trumpets and keyboards. The drums and the bass provide the rhythmic drive as with most rock bands but the tempos and time signatures ratchet up often with zigzagging riffs, sudden start / stop syncopation and jittery uncertain gloomy mood enhancing timbres that climax in explosive outbursts of dissonant power chords unleashing their fury in metal bombast. Out of the five lengthy tracks, the shortest running time of “Aura On An Asylum Wall” still hovers near the eight minute mark while the soul crushing bombast of “…On Limpid Form” soars to a majestic eighteen minute run. This is an album to savor slowly as it requires full active participation in its ever-changing stylistic sequences.

DOWSING ANEMONE is quite a different beast than “Choirs” as each track is independent of the other and has a distinct personality trait. While the opening “Gemini Becomingt The Tripod” delivers a distinct metal bombast as heard on “Choirs,” the following tracks focus much more on the chamber rock, jazz and 20th century avant-garde attributes of avant-garde classical musical scores. The metal bombast returns on the lengthy “…On Limpid Form” which strangely builds up a textural whirlwind of jazzy melodies with indie rock sensibilities until it creates a monstrous roar of heavy metal thunder that carries it far and wide. The time signatures on this album are off the chart as each track employs a wide range of off-kilter compositional counterpoints with a tapestry of instrumental interaction that is phenomenally performed in manners hitherto unheard. This music is startling and dramatic and sounds like it was beamed down from another world.

Personally i have always preferred this second album to the first and anything KAYO DOT has down to the Maudlin of the Well material that preceded. This album simply takes me to places i never knew existed and that is exactly what avant-garde music is supposed to achieve only this isn’t experimentation for its own sake but rather an interesting new way of achieving a full compositional experience with everything tweaked in order to create an alienating effect. While i absolutely love the chamber-jazz-metal-art-rock that’s on display, i still find the vocals to be quite weak on several occasions. While they are perfect in some contexts, particularly the more aggressive moments, it’s during the really slowed down and whiney parts they are awful and this effect is on full display, unfortunately for much of the final track “Amaranth The Peddler” which exercises the weakest aspects of the bands and crafts them into an entire track. Seriously if it weren’t for the closer i would rate this much higher and had it been cut off it would still be a 40 plus minute listening experience. As much as i love DOWSING ANEMONE WITH COPPER TONGUE it pales in comparison to the even more dynamic perfection of the following “Blue Lambency Downward” album.

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