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
4.50 | 23 ratings
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ARCTURUS The Sham Mirrors Album Cover The Sham Mirrors
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KAYO DOT Choirs Of The Eye Album Cover Choirs Of The Eye
KAYO DOT
4.28 | 59 ratings
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DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA Sing Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious Album Cover Sing Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious
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4.26 | 31 ratings
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SHINING Blackjazz Album Cover Blackjazz
SHINING
4.24 | 27 ratings
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SIGH Hail Horror Hail Album Cover Hail Horror Hail
SIGH
4.37 | 10 ratings
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ARCTURUS La Masquerade Infernale Album Cover La Masquerade Infernale
ARCTURUS
4.19 | 45 ratings
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MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Leaving Your Body Map Album Cover Leaving Your Body Map
MAUDLIN OF THE WELL
4.18 | 54 ratings
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SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM Of Natural History Album Cover Of Natural History
SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM
4.18 | 38 ratings
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DØDHEIMSGARD A Umbra Omega Album Cover A Umbra Omega
DØDHEIMSGARD
4.42 | 7 ratings
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MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Bath Album Cover Bath
MAUDLIN OF THE WELL
4.16 | 61 ratings
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Materialism
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YAWN
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Bahamut
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DON BOLO
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Ode and Elegy
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ODE AND ELEGY
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Zeal and Ardor (2022)
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ZEAL AND ARDOR
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Douce Fange
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PENSÉES NOCTURNES
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avant-garde metal Music Reviews

YAWN Materialism

Album · 2022 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
siLLy puPPy
Norway has been a powerhouse in the last couple decades in both the worlds of progressive rock and metal but has also been prolific in wildly unclassifiable forms of experimental music ranging from electronic jazz to bizarre otherworldly space rock and even pop music but despite all the explorative avenues the Norwegians have pioneered, bands like Oslo’s YAWN remind me that there is still much uncharted territory in the world of music and sometimes one simply has to step outside of the box to find a new niche of musical expression. Outside the box these Norwegians did indeed step and this debut is amazingly constructed.

The band YAWN is fairly new having only formed in 2019 but has just released its unique sounding debut MATERIALISM which showcases a band that has found its own sound right from the beginning. Featuring the lineup of Torfinn Lysne (guitar), Oskar Johnsen Rydh (drums), Mike McCormick (guitar, electronics), Simen Wie (bass) and Tarjei Kjerland Lienig (synthesizer), YAWN comes off as a professional start up with a beautiful website, hefty touring schedule and rave reviews from critics who fancy those crazy bands that defy genre tags. Add to that a stellar production job which allows the varying elements of the album to shine!

In this case YAWN easily enters the databases of metal sites, progressive rock vaults and jazz lists as it incorporates all these musical styles and more into a freeform menagerie of improvising stylistic shifts that sound as if they are somewhat composed and somewhat just freefall musical spontaneity. MATERIALISM is basically a set of 16 tracks that drift from one style to another thus creating an album of continuity with polymorphic grooves, raucous rhythms and musical progressions sort of overlapping, trading off and offering divine contrapuntal support. The tracks all run into each other and in the end meaningless as separate units. No vocalist to be heard. This is completely instrumental.

The opening “Cement III: Gobsmack” immediately defers to the majestic Meshuggah for a series of oddly timed djent chugs that will immediately please the metal crowd but slowly but surely cede to atmospheric turbulence which becomes the dominant force as “Cement III: Fall Out” takes the baton but as that short chapter sputters out and leads to “Cement III: Restart, Reload, Rebuild” which reprises the Meshuggah like stomps and djentish rhythms. Eventually it all takes on a jazz-fusion approach with the guitar introducing a soloing method not unlike John McLaughlin. The track strays from the metal paradigm for a while but returns for a suffocating climax. The first act ends and then is followed by three more.

In return visits i realize YAWN is sort of like what third stream is to the world of jazz, namely the mixing of Western classical and jazz only adding progressive metal and electronica. I guess this is some kind of fourth stream. Who knows if we actually classified genres logically as in the biological sciences, perhaps we’d even be up to sixth stream by now but whatever the case, this is definitely unique and has my full attention even upon return visits. The second act begins with the mondo bizarro electronic piece “Chaos I: Artificial Superstition” but is followed immediately by the agro-metallic “Chaos: Greed” which offers an interesting array of djent power chords, avant-prog guitar licks in the vein of Fred Frith / Henry Cow. The repetitive nature of the guitar allows the drums to go berserk and the atmospheric backdrop to swoosh around like an MF. The next “Chaos” entries the ante with more guitar, more electronica, more, more! This act ends with a series of Aphex Twin styled electronica.

The “Lachrymator” series of acts revisit the Messhugah stomps with a more dramatic war march drumming pattern accompanied by intermittent melodies from the keyboard. Game of Thrones theme song sorta material here! It gets weirder though with bizarre Art Zoyd styled avant-prog type of stuff going on. Weird angular electronic rhythms with freaky ambient sounds in the background. It’s totally left the metal world at this point and gone into the world of Sun Ra only in electronic form! As “Lachrymator II: Tripwire” unfolds, it basically has built off the previous avant-groove and adds a bit of (somewhat) melodic guitar over it. This is definitely avant-prog with a metal edge but a bit more digestible for the uninitiated. The guitar licks become more steeped in the world of jazz. Almost Mahavishnu Orchestra in musical approach. The final chapter of the “Lachrymator” returns to the Meshuggah djent stomps but also adds an equal amount of atmospheric prowess with a strong keyboard riff that alternates with the increasing aggressiveness of the metal. This is like a duet, an instrumental beauty and the beast if you will. The act ends in a slowing down of the tempo.

The fourth act “Tokamak IV” starts out in pure ambient mode but morphs into some sort of Indian raga mimic but evolving into a 90s ethno-tribal-dance fusion that will surely scare all the metal heads who have dared stick around this long. Haha! It’s very short but out of the blue for sure. The track morphs into the next only adding the jittery angular guitar back into the mix but still not metal, just avant-prog. Given the title of the track is “Tokamak IV: Fluorescence & Entropy,” it only makes sense that this is supposed to be a musical expression of opposing forces although it’s not at all clear if they are at war or finding a truce :/ ~~~ The final two minute “Tokamak IV: Confluence” ends with a bang bringing back a metal stomp with electronic freakery that culminates in a progressive free for all that sums up the entire album. Nice.

Wow. This is not an easy album to grasp. Anybody hung up on genre labels will not get this at all. This is music nerd central where all of musical consciousness congregates for a play party. Metalheads will find this too non-metal most of the time. Jazz lovers will hate the non-jazz elements etc. This album really is the true meaning of progressive however with ideas that connect it to the past but takes bits and bytes from previous musical expressions and simply stitch it all into a new musical tapestry. All i can say is that while many avant-rock / metal acts delve into a world of their own making for the sake of exploration, YAWN has crafted a musical experience that actually maintains a logical continuity throughout its merciful 37 1/2 minute run. Yep, if this was too long it would have derailed but perfect for its unorthodox presentation. Personally i love this a lot. Not perfect but daring, bold and brilliant. This album demands multiple spins in order to adapt to its demands. It’s easy to write off such albums immediately due to a short attention span but for musical nerds like me, this is fucking brilliant!

DON BOLO Bahamut

Album · 2022 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
One of Ecuador’s most bold and adventurous bands, DON BOLO has emerged from the capital city of Quito with its strange concoction that fuses art punk with various strains of metal, jazz and what sounds like Mexican mariachi music! I loved it just from the description haha! Virtually unknown outside of South America, DON BOLO returns in 2022 with its latest BAHAMUT (clearly means “Bathomet”) after three years of waiting. See 2018’s “El Principio del Fin” and the 2017 EP “En Muerto.”

DON BOLO takes you for a ride in post-punk paradise with chunky punky guitar riffs that provide an ample dose of dripping attitude that’s in yer face like Sid Viscious on a bad day! The artsy aspects emerge in avant-prog off-kilter time signature deviations in an otherwise groovy sort of procession. Add some sultry sax squawking and the occasional references to Latin music and what you have here is a recipe that will stimulate and titillate the senses in a most peculiar way!

This procession of 13 tracks takes a bunch of atonal punk skronk sounds and mixes in disparate elements including doom metal and other metal styles into Latin punk rock fiesta! Lyrics are in Spanish however we get everything from spoken word to clean and normal and then off to screaming in aguish! Tracks tend to be on the shorter side in the vein of classic punk rock but offer strange embellishments. Tracks like the short “Naro Pacional” are straight out of the John Zorn playbook while “Nuevas Masculindades” borrows a fat bassy beat from reggaeton along with some surf rock and Special type of 2-Tone at times.

BAHAMUT runs the gamut of perfectly walking the tightrope act of balancing melodic accessibility with the more dissonant and angular aspects of prog and avant-metal without actually totally going too far in either of those directions. This is art punk dished out Latin American style but not amateurish like so many modern retro punkers tend to be. This is some serious stuff that keeps me engaged from beginning to end.

This was a great discovery! If nerdy avant-art-punk is your scene then you can’t go wrong with DON BOLO. Something about jazzy post-punk laced with disparate metal styles and Latin flavors really appeals to me and the diverse antics displayed on this album are refreshing. So far this is my favorite discovery of 2022. DON BOLO is Emilio Montenegro (bass), José Hernández (drums), Daniel Gachet (guitars), Pedro Naranjon (guitars), Luis Sigüenza (saxophones). Described as criminal punk jazz, i think i have found a new favorite band to latch onto!

ODE AND ELEGY Ode and Elegy

Album · 2022 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
ODE AND ELEGY is an interesting new metal hybrid solo project from songwriter / producer Kent Fairman who spent the early 2000s in a post-rock / post-hardcore / screamo band called The Pax Cecilia. That band was cutting edge in how it merged the disparate words of screamo based post-hardcore with modern classical and chamber music and released two highly lauded albums “Nouveau” and “Blessed Are The Bonds.” Technically the band is still around but seems defunct with no new releases since a 2014 EP titled “Mythos Fragments.”

This musical style never really escaped Fairman’s interest and after many years he has resurrected the core elements of The Pax Cecilia with his new project ODE AND ELEGY. This pretty much picks up where the last project left off only adding even more genres of music to the blend by adopting the more bombastic world of metal to the mix. Sounding something like a Toby Driver project ranging from Maudlin of the Well to his more metal oriented Kayo Dot releases, ODE AND ELEGY certainly isn’t afraid of tackling the same ambitions with its self-titled debut delivering a 55-minute track also titled “Ode And Elegy.”

This project lurks in that strange musical world that doesn’t really fit into any category lately. Is it rock? Is it metal? Chamber rock? Classical music? Well, all and none of the above actually. Like any really good avant-gardist, Fairman has done his homework on how to seamlessly meld all the aforementioned ingredients in order to create some musical alchemy and in the process delivers one of 2022’s most original and forward thinking musical creations so far. I have often said that metal is the new classical music with adventurous technical and progressive metal bands adopting more and more of the traditional Western classical music motifs only set to a louder and prouder musical paradigm.

ODE AND ELEGY the album is quite beautiful in how it slowly and incrementally transcends from intimate chamber rock to post-hardcore and screamo and then back to chamber rock and then to post-metal with a few interruptions of unaccompanied choral vocal music. This is truly artistic and although the Kayo Dot comparisons are valid, ODE AND ELEGY doesn’t utilize jazz as a wellspring of musical tones, textures and chord progressions. Rather the Western classical musical world seems like the main inspiration here as far as the compositional flow is concerned and a the chamber rock, post-hardcore and post-metal add the tones and textures, dynamics and tempos.

What reminds me most of the Kayo Dot projects is Fairman’s vocal style. His lyrical delivery really does evoke a Toby Driver project and if someone were to tell me that this was indeed any Driver led band, i would totally believe it! Musically this is rich and much more in the chamber rock and classical world than metal as the metal is a bit of tertiary ingredient. The main instruments include the bass guitar, drums and guitar but also on board are a string section, harp, brass section, flute and vocal choir. The post-rock feel is valid as well as the compositional flow employs cyclical loops that are augmented by classical overtones and dense multi-layered polyphonic effects.

A true gem in 2022 when many classic metal bands are going retro and other experimental bands seem a bit unfocused in their approach. This one seems like it walks the tightrope in so many ways but sails through many turbulent storms like a caravel traversing calm waters. It’s both placidly chilled out and dynamically obstreperous at the right moments. The clash of the dynamics is the name of the game here and Fairman cleverly ekes out the call and response effect with seeming ease. This is a very unique album that may not appeal to the instant gratification that many a metalhead demands but for those who can appreciate the delayed response of a seriously well construed post-rock album with a bit of metal heft, then this one’s for you! Fans of Kayo Dot and Toby Driver projects will most appreciate this. One of my faves of the year so far!

ZEAL AND ARDOR Zeal and Ardor (2022)

Album · 2022 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
African American music generally speaking has staunchly and proudly distanced itself from the greater rock universe ever since Jimi Hendrix met his untimely passing. For whatever reason despite the genre having branched off of the greater African American blues guitar tree, the majority of black music has been concentrated into hip hop, R&B, funk or dance pop. There are exceptions of course such as Fishbone, Living Color and even Tina Turner and when it comes to the world of metal music, it has remained woefully free of our black brothers and sisters with only a smattering of bands that have dared enter this loud and proud descendent of the greater rock music universe.

There have been a few of course ranging from the pioneering Black Death all the way back in 1977 to bands like Sound Barrier but for the most part these bands featured black members interpreting white music forms rather than incorporating the African-American musical experience into their music. It took a few decades but in comes Swiss born Manuel Gagneux also known as Birdmask associated more with chamber pop rather than anything in the metal universe but once challenged to create a musical form that was as far ranging as possible, the answer was quite simple: why not do the unthinkable by fusing black metal with African American traditional forms of music like gospel, soul and spirituals? The world would never be the same.

The solo project ZEAL AND ARDOR emerged which took the primary black music experience of gospel, soul and R&B and merged it with the metal universe. The eponymously titled demo emerged in 2014 and caught the world’s attention for the sheer audacity of taking metal into a completely unthinkable fusion of stylistic approaches. The project quickly became a full band and with the release of the band’s debut “Devil Is Fine” the new ZEAL AND ARDOR showcased a bizarre mix of African American spirituals, work songs and ambient electronica with black metal. While the project was lauded as the most creative example of metal’s adaptability, it was also panned as lacking any sense of cohesion and sounding more like a series of music samples.

It’s been six years and two albums since ZEAL AND ARDOR debuted and it’s safe to say they have ironed out any kinks that had prevented their initial project from that polished perfection that many an artist strives to achieve. The release of the band’s third album, also eponymously titled ( i hate when they do that! ), Gagneux and his buddies have finally gotten a serious grasp on their bizarre mishmash of musical styles with an album that showcases a sound that has matured into a true avant-metal powerhouse. While still rooted in the concept of a faux history where African slaves revolted against their Christian masters and turned to Satanism, the musical journey on this one incorporated the band’s usual black metal meets African American spirituals but also adds healthy doses of industrial rock, blues rock and metalcore. Also present are moments of post-rock, classical music and alternative rock.

This has been a band that has always sounded good on paper but has never caught my interest in the delivery system however with the eponymously titled third ZEAL AND ARDOR album i can honestly say that this album works like a charm and although coming off as some sort of neo nu metal album at times especially during the Korn-esque power chord stomps, the album offers an interesting variety of disparate and oft opposing stylistic approaches that transition seamlessly and graced with a lush production that both accentuates the subtle sounds of a classic pop standard while allowing the uglier metal distortion to rage on through. The strength of this album is in how the tracks are vary sufficiently to stand on their own.

“Götterdämmerung” is perhaps my favorite track of all with its melodic death metal angst mixed with Tool-esque alt metal on overdrive with a black spiritual choir backing it up with transitions to neo-soul and electronica. The entire album flies by rather quickly and while many will cry foul and whine that “this ain’t metal!” i can assure you that the metal aspects are quite genuine and performed in fully fueled angst. Sure the metal aspects are only an ingredient to this creative tapestry of genres but that’s really what much avant-metal is about these days. Probably not for everyone but this third release from ZEAL AND ARDOR works quite well for my ears. It seems like this band has come of age thus displaying the bizarre nature of the never-ending metal hybrids that show no signs of keeping the metal spirit alive.

PENSÉES NOCTURNES Douce Fange

Album · 2022 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
In the world of modern black metal, perhaps no other nation has produced so many innovative experimental artists as France with the best known examples of Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord and Peste Noire leading the way however they have hardly been the only ambitious black metal acts emerging from this part of the world though with other bands like Escotrilihum and Véhémence expanding the boundaries of black metal even further. One of the strangest newer acts to emerge from France has been the crazy PENSÉES NOCTURNES which has essentially been the solo project of Vaerohn since 2008.

While black metal may have started out shedding all traces of traditional sounds that have gestated throughout time, modern black metal has catapulted forth by hybridizing with many of the traditional folk sounds of various cultures of the world ranging from the Central Asian sounds heard in Darkestrah to the Nordic sounds of various Scandinavian third wavers. PENSEE NOCTURNES has unapologetically mined the world of French traditional folk music, dark cabaret and most French sounding musical style of all, musette and stringing it all together in a black metal frenzy.

Vaerohn returns in early 2022 with the seventh PENSEE NOCTURNES album DOUCE FANGE (Sweet Mud) and unleashes another unthinkable mixture of circus music, jazz, musette and even tango with his usual blend of classical fueled depressive black metal madness. This is the kind of experimental black metal that will drive purists crazy. The pompous romp of tango fueled accordions with black metal blastbeats and over the top dramatic vocals that sound like the lamenting of a circus tent set aflame, PENSEE NOCTURNES’ propensity for super exaggerated juxtapositions of such elements is an attention getter for sure but given the fragile tightrope act of such metal hybridizations, it’s a very difficult juggling act to maintain over an entire career.

As with many similar styled bands that use black metal as a contrasting element to more traditional folk styles that also add in ingredients from other disparate genres, what begins as a recipe that incorporates adequate supplies of the metal part of the equation for the voracious consumers of head banging music, often the metal aspects get tamped down in favor of the folky elements. Such is the case of DOUCE FANGE. While PENSEE NOCTURNES began its run in a rather unique way on the 2009 debut “Vacuum” which crafted a classical music mix of high octane black metal, on 2013’s “Nom dune Pipe!” Vaerohn switched gears and offered the first true mix of black metal and the traditional French sounds of musette. PENSEE NOCTURNES has been a wild ride of carnival music fueled hysteria ever since.

While incorporating all of the elements that made PENSEE NOCTURNES what it is today, DOUCE FANGE seems to have gone for the jugular by adding even more ethnic sounds. The most glaring example is the Argentinean sounds of the tango on the album’s first single “Le Tango Du Vieuloniste.” This track despite its exquisite musicality supplies an ample dose of cartoonish absurdity and showcases an example of what it would sound like if Astor Piazzolla had hooked up with Yann Tiersen and perhaps early Summoning. Add some spoken word dialogue from some undisclosed source, plenty of frantic screams and a never-ending supply of black metal weaving in and out of the carnavelesque jocularity and DOUCE FANGE comes off as an even more avant-garde experience that will leave the uninitiated listener pushing the stop button in no time at all.

It goes without saying that PENSEE NOCTURNE is an acquired taste and shouldn’t really be thought of as a black metal act at all despite black metal sounds being a part of the recipe. This is an example of an avant-garde metal eccentricity completely escaping the playbook of any pesky definitions and artistic expression solely for the purpose of being artistic, a very French trait which has produced some of the world’s most enduring artists of many trades.

For my tolerant tastes i actually have an appetite for this exotic musical specimen that is part cheese, part bombast, part timeless authenticity and 100% insane! In comparison to previous albums DOUCE FANGE seems to have fallen off the rails a bit as i found 2019’s “Grand Guignol Orchestra” to sound a bit more balanced but i have to admit that this crazy concoction certainly is not without its appeal. Perhaps my least favorite PENSEE NOCTURNES albums but certainly engaging enough to appeal to my freakish avant-garde sensibilities. One of the drawbacks here is that the black metal has become too watered down with an assault of psychedelic organs, circus music effects and a nonstop display of uplifting folk moods in direct opposition to depressive black metal bleakness. It certainly offers a unique brackish water effect but seems to be the least focused album of this unique scatterbrained act so far especially when stray saxophone squawks enter the scene without any clear context.

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