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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SHINING Blackjazz Album Cover Blackjazz
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SHINING Blackjazz

Album · 2010 · Avant-garde Metal
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After two albums of classic 60s avant-garde tinged post-bop jazz and two more of dark experimental progressive rock laced with auxiliary reserves of tripped out electronica and partitioned metal music bombast, SHINING led by the eccentric composer and band leader Jørgen Munkeby decided to delve into the heavier world of extreme metal that trimmed down the musical instruments even more and focused on a caustic rambunctious style of guitar driven metal with crazy jazz flair ups courtesy of Munkeby’s frenetic saxophone squawking.

Another sound shift also signified yet another change in the lineup. Out was keyboardist Andreas Hessen Schei replaced by synthesizer wizard Bernt Moen and gone was basset Morten Strøm who found a replacement in Tor Egil Kreken. Torstein Lofthus stuck around for this third wave of stylistic shifts as drumming powerhouse extraordinary and the band added one extra member in the form of Even Helte Hermansesn as a second guitarist thus making the new version of SHINING a provocative and quixotic quartet. While the previous albums were primarily instrumental, SHINING’s fourth album BLACKJAZZ was their breakthrough and featured a frenetic fast-tempo paced style of industrialized metal with Munkeby taking on the newfound duties as lead vocalist.

One of the major inspirations behind this sudden shift into extreme metal was the band’s 2007 tour with Enslaved and also due to the fact that the previous two ridiculously complex albums didn’t translate so well live therefore BLACKJAZZ was designed to represent how the band performed in a live setting with the album title referring to this new bizarre amalgamation of black metal, industrial rock and of course jazz! The album exists in the same league as fellow Norwegian band Dødheimsgard and in many ways Munkeby’s frantic vocal style reminds me of Devin Townsend especially from his earlier years on Steve Vai’s “Sex & Religion” album as well as with Strapping Young Lad.

BLACKJAZZ doesn’t waste any time slapping you in the face with caustic swells of guitar riffs, bantering bass lines and spastic drum rolls but for all its direct assault on the senses, the musical flow is much simpler with less detours into psychedelic atmospheric journeys into another universe. The second track “Fisheye” dates back to the 2008 when SHINING performed with Enslaved at the 90-minute “Armageddon Concerto” and was mined to create the studio version of the first movement. It seems that this decision was the impetus to switching to the avant-garde industrial metal style on BLACKJAZZ and for those hoping for another dark prog journey in the vein of King Crimson’s debut, they must have been as disappointed as the jazz purists who first heard SHINING’s third album “In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster.”

Ubiquitous caustic bombast aside, BLACKJAZZ is filled with creepy and oft eerie atmospheric backdrops that keep the incessant high octane metal rampages into the world of darkened progressive rock with highbrow time signature workouts, intricately designed atmospheric generators and brilliant execution through highly energetic but adventurous virtuosity. While saxophone jazz mixed with metal has become a bit cliche some ten years after this release, nobody has pulled it off quite as well as SHINING did when such a concept was still a novelty. All those King Crimson attacks are still quite present to the trained ear with the most striking example coming on “Exit Sun” which mimics parts of “21st Century Schizoid Man” which also happens to appear as a more metal cover version as the album’s closer.

As the album entered mid-point with the crazed “Healter Skelter,” the jazz and metal parts become ever more entwined with the saxophone parts dueling in a death match with the rampaging guitar and bass lines. This particular score is daunting in its virtuosic delivery. For those who appreciated the less bombastic approach of the previous two albums, BLACKJAZZ does deliver some darkened prog goods in the form of Anekdoten or Morte Macabre on tracks like “The Madness and the Damage Done” and most importantly “Omen” although do be warned that the quickened pace fo the drums, vocals and guitar parts which contrast quite starkly with the chilled out atmospheric backdrop offers a stunning contrast of stylistic approaches somehow woven together seamlessly as only true seasoned composers can master but it’s probably the excesses of “Blackjazz Deathtrance” that i find most memorable here.

After a more extreme version of “21st Century Schizoid Man,” the classic King Crimson song from 1969 that pretty much was the firing canon of the entire prog explosion that followed, the album ends and leaves you with the initial perception that you’re not entirely sure what you just experienced. BLACKJAZZ performed an incredible mastery of fusing completely disparate musical styles into a seamless whole. The caustic metal mixes with jazz and what sounds like symphonic classical music is uncanny in how well it all gels together. Sure this isn’t black metal and it isn’t jazz but elements of both are here hanging out on the same playground along with their buddies prog rock, electronica, industrial rock, 20th century Western classical and moments of psychedelia.

This is not an easy listen for sure and will take some time for it to unleash its magic but once those sonic spores have hatched in your head, you cannot unhear it! In my world this is the second masterpiece in a row from the Norwegian band SHINING and although they wouldn’t keep the world’s attention very long after this lauded breakthrough, for a brief moment in time they were actually one of Norway’s most promising bands. Warning: not to be listened to if you have severe reactions to extreme stimuli! Symptoms may include sanity loss, ringing ears, excessive desires to bang head against wall and possible sudden outbursts that could leave hotel rooms in shambles. However if you have all those uncontrollable impulses firmly under lock and key, this album may provide that exhilarating excitement that extremophiles crave but rarely find in such abundance.

SHINING Grindstone

Album · 2007 · Avant-garde Metal
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Traversing the soundscapes like a majestic bird soaring over ever changing terrains of the land, the Norwegian band SHINING started off as a pure acoustic jazz tribute to the 1960s biggest post-bop avant-gardists including the legendary John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman but after two albums of excellent altar worshipping decided to add a bit more of experimental conviction to the mix as bandleader Jørgen Munkeby bravely plunged into a strange new world of sonic possibilities which equally dazzled critics and fans of unhinged experimental music. With the eccentrically designed “In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster,” Munkeby deftly crafted the intricacies of classical composer Olivier Messiaen and freeform jazz with the sonic textures of electronica and progressive rock and caught the world’s attention with this bizarre new agglutination of disparate musical genera.

The transition may have been necessary but came at a cost. Two of the original members jumped ship and wanted no part of this pioneering pilgrimage to the altar of some bizarre musical chimera as Munkeby cast his intent on following in the more esoteric sounds of early King Crimson. Out was pianist Morten Qvenild who was replaced with Andreas Hessen Schei and quickly following his exit strategy, bassist Aslak Hartberg was replaced by Morten Strøm. Having updated the band into a modern 21st century powerhouse of musical mojo, SHINING now gleamed like a shiny diamond and released its lauded followup GRINDSTONE which found a much more focused and oft direct stylistic approach after the airy abstract improvisational sounds of its predecessor. Instrumentation was tamped down from the excesses of “In The Kingdom” and found the simpler rock setup of keyboards, bass guitar and drums accompanied by Munkeby’s usual jazz standard of saxophone, flute and clarinet with his extra guitar contributions finding greater roles. Likewise the guest musicians were limited to a gong, extra organ touches and backing vocals.

Ironically GRINDSTONE opens with a track that bears the title of the previous album. “In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster” actually refers to a reference in the novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” but puts an extra emphasis on the “monster” part as the title which signifies a newfound love for the bombast of metal music with crunchy distorted guitar riffs chugging away in a caustic bravado worthy of scoring that role as opening act with extreme metal stalwarts Enslaved which the band opened for at the end of 2007. During these concerts SHINING would end their show with a cover of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” further cementing comparisons to the great KC. GRINDSTONE certainly comes off as a 21st century counterpart to KC’s classic debut “In The Court of the Crimson King” with an ineffable trans-genera journey through myriad stylistic approaches that incorporate everything form the metal bombast experienced at the beginning of the album to the more fluid avant-garde classical and jazz experiments that meander unexpectedly throughout GRINDSTONE’s 44 minute running time.

After the slap in the face chug-fest of the opening track, “Winterreise” follows the energetic delivery but adds an interesting mix of Baroque piano runs, atmospheric gloominess in movie soundtrack form and special detail to mixing heavier prog guitar heft with more symphonic escapades. “Stalemate Longan Runner” delves deeper into the Crimson court with angular guitar riffs coinciding with avant-jazz motifs and more heavenly atmospheric constructs. This trilogy of heavy rock bombast is separated from the rest of the album with the short “To Be Proud of Crystal Colors Is to Live Again” which evokes a music box and sets the stage for Act II which beings with another Crimsonian allusion in the title of “Moonchild Mindgames” which takes an avant-garde journey into the bizarr-o-sphere much like KC’s 69 classic “Moonchild” as it meanders from classical light as a feather motifs to the heavy jazz rock bombast “The Red Room” which takes a jazzier approach on KC’s “Red” only with hyperactive sax squawks that would make John Zorn proud.

“Asa Nisi Masa” in its brevity delivers the bombastic heft of metal guitar punctuated with off-kilter time signatures with a unique atmospheric dread and processed vocals followed by the second coming of “Crystal Colors” in full music box form. “Psalm” gets even weirder with the same processed vocal parts, a dramatic horror flick melody and the female soprano parts of Ashild Sikiri Refsdal which collectively sounds like the diva dance otherworldliness out of the movie “The Fifth Element” as it lollygags through rich percussive drives, manipulated electronic effects and a series of production techniques. The tracks followed by the clever 10th track which is morse code for Bach and is indeed a short devotion to period Baroque classical sounds. As the album wraps up, it unleashes the noisy fuzz-fueled “1:4:9” that would make a good alternative soundtrack clip for horror flicks like “The Exorcist.” The closing “Flight Dusk With Dawn” continues the melody and mixes the guitar heft of KC’s “Red” with avant-garde creepiness of Univers Zero’s “Heresie” thus ending the album on a very noisy yet surreal unnerving effect.

Despite the extreme guitar elements which guarantee a slot in metal databases, GRINDSTONE will appeal much more to aficionados of darkened heavy prog in the vein of not only classic King Crimson but Anekdoten, Morte Macabre and even a bit of Univers Zero and Art Zoyd. The album is exquisitely crafted and i find to be one fo the best dark progressive rock albums of the 21st century with its incessant zigzagging through myriad musical motifs that take on the sonic dexterity of bands like Goblin but evoke more of a creepy reverie of some of the more out there avant-classical composers of the 20th century such as the Transylvanian born György Ligeti. The music is dynamic and crafts a menagerie of stylistic shifts throughout it’s normal album playing time and straddles its tightrope act through various layers of heavy prog, atmospheric electronica and avant-garde jazz. It would’ve been impossible to comprehend such wild and innovative music coming from SHINING just a few years back when they were very much focused on early 60s jazz but somehow Munkeby channeled the zeitgeist of the aforementioned artists and crafted a veritable and often frightening compilation of sound effects that resulted in GRINDSTONE. This is one of those unsung masterpieces that will hopefully resonate more with others.

VICTORY OVER THE SUN A Tessitura of Transfiguration

Album · 2020 · Avant-garde Metal
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In the 21st century there seem to be two major trends. Retro bands that strive to bring metal back to its more simplistic roots and wildly experimental acts that are hell bent for leather in driving the genre forward into almost unrecognizable territories. The Portland, Oregon act VICTORY OVER THE SUN is definitely in the latter camp crafting an abrasive metallic soundscape that honestly sounds like no other. This second album A TESSITURA OF TRANSFIGURATION uses black metal as its canvas to paint up with atonal dissonant guitar jangles much like the horrific sounds of Deathspell Omega, VICTORY OVER THE SUN is one of those meandering types that uses tones, textures and timbres to navigate through the sound spectrum rather than any sort of recognizable soundscape.

This is the one person project of Vivian Tylinska aka Cichy Duch who is one of the only trans women i’ve encountered in the world of extreme metal. This album features Vivian on guitar, bass, drums, vocals as well as in the producer’s seat and chief composer. Four guest musicians add bass clarinet, violin, and extra vocals mostly only the first track “
The Objectless World” which begins as a strange avant-garde sounding black metal track but then drifts into a post-metal parade with jazzy extras. The atonal procession is laced with extremely dissonant counterpoints fortified with Vivian’s monster growls screamed to high heaven. There is a choppiness to the guitar riffs with oddball time signatures making this a truely progressive romp through the land of avant-garde metal.

A TESSITURA features four lengthy tracks with the opener reaching almost 11 minutes. Despite sounding like a swirling pool of chaotic sound generated randomly, Vivian claims that this album was the result of hundreds of hours of writing, rewriting, recording, rerecording, mixing and remixing. This is type of metal that is for the most adventurous, for those who seek the irreverence of an exploration that leaves behind any preconceptions and has no problem with random deviations from the extremity of caustic metal sounds to a more post-rock world where jazz instruments take a stroll through a cyclical procession of amorphous sound clusters. For those into bands like Fleurety, Ved Buens Ende or Maudlin of the Well, this is for you as VICTORY OVER THE SUN has done its avant-garde metal homework and delivered a very interesting specimen of sophisticated metal madness.

Despite the instantly inaccessible nature of A TESSITURA OF TRANSFIGURATION, this one does indeed have its hooks although you have to tune yourself into its vibe. In some ways its like reading a novel while on a high speed roller coaster as all the elements of normal music as distorted and drawn out into bizarre concoctions that are seemingly alien but begin to make sense once you piece it together. Perhaps the most similar band i’ve heard is Coma Void Cluster of recent years which engages in lengthy atonal journeys through rhythmic irregulars and extremely bombastic metal elements blowing your ears out for most of the album’s run. This one is only for the avant-gardists out there but it really is an excellent example of unorthodox romps through the metal universe in the most spastic way possible. Vivian describes this music as transcendental black metal as a tribute to Liturgy but in many ways blows Liturgy away.


Album · 2001 · Avant-garde Metal
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Sometimes bands are just too avant-garde for their own good. Like it or not, music is way too often pigeonholed into categories and genres for database conveniences and if a given band doesn’t lean too far one way or the other, they can easily get lost in the shuffle. Metal is no exception with the catchall dumping ground for disobedient children who refuse to conform with set standards. Avant-garde metal is that detention center and while a few bands like Mr Bungle, Sigh, Unexpect, Maudlin of the Well and Diablo Swing Orchestra have thrived by bucking expectations, most bands that dare explore unthinkable experimentation get tucked into a corner for a time out.

THANATOSCHIZO (stylized as ThanatoSchizO) is one such strange avant-garde metal band that originates from Santa Mata de Panaguião, Portugal which is just east of Porto. The band began as just Thanatos and kept the name from 1997-2000 but expanded the name to include SCHIZO due to the fact the first name was already taken and also because the band was getting weirder and weirder. Under Thanatos the band released a demo and an EP titled “Melégnia” in 2001 and in the same year the band changed its name and recorded and released its first album as THANATOSCHIZO.

SCHIZO LEVEL lives up to its name for sure. Even on the first track “Raw” you’re not sure what’s going on. It starts with horse galloping sounds and then proceeds into sound effects and a trumpet! Did we just start a mariachi band?!! Around a minute and a half a bunch of amateur guitar feedback jangles on for a few seconds and it’s almost enough to end the album right here and now but then suddenly a bombastic fury of fast tempo black metal guitars, bass and drums erupt into a cacophonous roar with tortured vocals screaming at the top of its lungs. OK, this is a metal album after all and it’s an extreme one at that! OK, the metal tag has been established but WTF kinda metal is it? Sounds like black metal with tortured vocals but then death metal growls begin and even a little tribute to “Wipeout” surf rock. OK, this is gonna be weird!

To be fair, THANATOSCHIZO is quite liberal in how it adopts ideas and places them into various spots on this album but in the end the band mainly focuses on metal albeit a mix of death, black, thrash, gothic and even doom. Despite the main focus on metal the band also includes plenty of non-metal sounds that range from progressive rock and ambient to classical piano and various forms of world music. Not quite as extreme as bands like Unexpect but just as extreme in the metal department. One of the things that makes SCHIZO LEVEL so damn riveting is that is both melodic and fun! Everything revolves around various grooves, melodic hooks and unorthodox counterpoints.

The one drawback about this album is that it extends past the 64 minute mark and i don’t think the material is strong enough for that length of time but it’s also true that there are no bad tracks per se. This is an entertaining album through and through and THANATOSCHIZO are masters of juxtaposition of disparate musical elements without sounding like they are copycatting any particular avant-garde metal band out there. Generally speaking the band likes to begin tracks with non-metal influences ranging from classical piano to gypsy swing violin however the main gist of each track is oft limited to extreme metal that includes all the biggies like death, black, thrash, gothic and doom as well as nice good old fashioned 80s classic sounds. In this regard the band reminds me of a more adventurous version of Greece’s The Elysian Fields.

On SCHIZO LEVEL there are five main members that includes Eduardo Paulo (vocals), Patricia Rodrigues (vocals), Guilhermino Martins (guitar, bass, piano, church organ, vibraphone), Filipe Miguel (keyboards) and Paulo Adelino (drums, vocals) but there are 8 guests providing additional electronics, flute, bass, piano, ethnic samples and lots of screams! This album loves to mix trippy etherial moments with extremely bombastic metal madness. If i had to compare THANATOSCHIZO to any other band i’ve heard out there, i’d probably say it’s a more extreme version of the Japanese band Sigh especially in how it carries itself in the songwriting department but of course that’s the closest approximation. Avant-garde acts like this strive to be and succeed in existing in their own worlds with only distant comparisons for the sake of reviewers. This was an unexpected winner! I will certainly be exploring more from this band :)

BUCKETHEAD Pike 277 - Division Is The Devil's Playground

Album · 2020 · Avant-garde Metal
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Despite his prolific output in recent years, the chicken loving BUCKETHEAD has all but disappeared in the last 3 years with a very scarce output with 2019 seeing no releases in PIKES and 2020 resulting in a scarcity of product but then again unpredictability is the name of the game with this bizarre musical wonder who has hatched some of the weirdest musical specimens of all time.

PIKE 277 - DIVISION IS THE DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND finds BH releasing his 277th installment of the PIKE universe unusually after the release of PIKE 278 but when all is weird it’s just a blip in the reality index. This is probably one of the shortest PIKEs of all with 7 tracks clocking in a the 23:49 timeline. While PIKE 276 was all about new age and ambience, PIKE 277 gets back to the BH that i love the best, namely getting wild, weird and unpredictable!

Basically this shorty PIKE is only 7 tracks each titled with a Roman numeral. “I” shows BH is back into his more exciting experimental antics with super fast and crunch heavy metal riffs, progressive time signature outbursts and electronic accoutrements. While not ridiculously original in the PIKE series, BH has mastered the art of production with nice sound effects to echo his guitar playing and electronica freakery. The first track also has a nice anthemic melody to kick things off.

“II” features a sizzling virtuosic solo along with a metronome type of steady percussive beat but of course starts shapeshifting into strange amoeba shaped sounds and then back to stampeding thunderous metal riffage. It’s a veritable medley of BH-isms. Me like! So much better than lullaby albums in my world. Oh yeah, don’t forget to get funked because there’s plenty of that here too :D

By the time “III” hits it’s obvious why track titles are meaningless because so are beginnings and endings to individual tracks. The whole PIKE is one of those amorphous monsters that flows as a continuous change-em-up-and-often offerings. Basically we get heavy metal (thrash, classic, progressive, neoclassical) along with funk, space rock, electronic weirdness and other forms of WTF! There’s basically no rhyme or reason to which style emerges and for how long it lasts but that’s what makes these PIKEs so much fun!

BH shows off some of his best guitar work in a long time on DIVISION IS THE DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND. Not only is his fiery passion alive and well but after countless of meh PIKEs that recycle the same old crap, this one is HOT and fueled with a sense of rejuvenation. This one isn’t boring for one minute. It’s quite intense and stuffed to the gill with creative energetic outburst. At 23 minutes this is just the right length and although there are plenty of recycled ideas from the past, somehow they are all presented here in a slightly new fashion.

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