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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SIGH Imaginary Sonicscape Album Cover Imaginary Sonicscape
SIGH
4.48 | 28 ratings
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KAYO DOT Hubardo Album Cover Hubardo
KAYO DOT
4.49 | 20 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
4.40 | 27 ratings
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ARCTURUS The Sham Mirrors Album Cover The Sham Mirrors
ARCTURUS
4.32 | 55 ratings
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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
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4.22 | 43 ratings
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SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM Of Natural History Album Cover Of Natural History
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4.21 | 38 ratings
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MAUDLIN OF THE WELL
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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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SHINING Blackjazz Album Cover Blackjazz
SHINING
4.18 | 24 ratings
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avant-garde metal Music Reviews

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.

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.

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