Avant-garde Metal

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Avant-garde metal, experimental metal, or art metal is a subgenre of heavy metal music characterised by the use of innovative, avant-garde elements, large-scale experimentation, and the use of non-standard sounds, instruments, and song structures.

The term avant-garde metal refers to bands and musicians who "incorporate new and innovative elements in metal, who break conventions, tear down walls, violate borders." The genre has also been described as "the art of creating deep and strange atmospheres by experimenting with new instruments and sounds, strange vocals, unconventional song structures, rhythms and harmonies, unusual lyrics or uncommon artwork" or alternatively, "progressive, psychedelic, surrealistic, phantasmagoric, expressionistic, dissonant or extravagant interpretations of extreme metal."

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avant-garde_metal

Sub-genre collaborators (shared with Progressive Metal):
  • siLLy puPPy
  • DippoMagoo
  • Sisslith
  • adg211288

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avant-garde metal Music Reviews

VIRUS The Black Flux

Album · 2008 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Following in the footsteps of his lauded Ved Buens Ende, Carl-Michael Eide better known as Aggressor, Czral or Exhurtum unleashed his musical pathogen called VIRUS in the year 2000 and crafted a sound that was a hybrid of his Ved Buens Ende era and the more progressive thrash sounds of Voivod. “Blackheart” came out in 2003 but such avant-garde metal sounds were not yet as en vogue as they would become a few years later and therefore the album went a bit under the radar despite crafting some incredibly intricate deliveries of jazz-tinged jangle metal steeped in dissonance and avant-prog angularities. Czral (the name he used for the VIRUS project) would wait five whole years for a follow-up as most of his energy was spent in other projects such as Aura Noir, Cadaver and Dødheimsgard.

The sophomore album THE BLACK FLUX was unleashed in 2008 and by that time the public had caught up to some of the more adventurous metal sounds that had been spewing forth since Gorguts caught the world off guard with its bizarre death metal madness on “Obscura.” Once again VIRUS consisted of the trio of Eide on guitar and vocals along with Petter Berntsen “Plenum" on bass and Einar Sjursø "Einz" on drums. Unlike “Carheart” there are no additional vocalists but instead a couple of additional guests who offer some extra touches with the baritone guitar, violin, piano, slide guitar, soundscape effects and ambience. Having gained a foothold in the underground metal scene, the Seasons of the Mist label sniffed VIRUS out and signed them for this second coming.

Two factors in play meant THE BLACK FLUX would experience a wider range of recognition from not just the critics but also the avant-garde metal loving public. Firstly the sounds of dissonant Voivod inspired jangle chords laced with progressive rock and thrashy metal had become more mainstream with many new bands venturing out into the adventurous world of experimental rock that adopted more aggressive metal bombast. Secondly, THE BLACK FLUX is a bit more accessible than its predecessor which meant that the recipe was ripe for those seeking music on the cutting edge to go all gaga over. This second album is much more streamlined than the first with nine tracks cruising on for slightly over 53 minutes of playing time however if the comparisons with Voivod were valid on the first album, on THE BLACK FLUX those comparisons are even more valid.

While the opening sounds of “Stalkers Of The Drift” offer a bleak atmospheric ambient backdrop, the bombastic dissonant guitar riffs quickly enter the scene and establish a paradigm that defines the entire album’s sound. Augmented with guitar chords that sound out of tune which are rhythmically propelled through jittery angular processions, the unique declarative vocal style of Czral fills the cracks between the staccato driven cacophonous counterpoints of the bass, guitar and drums. While there are many moments when the three instruments are in direct oppositions, often they come together for a cacophonous, thunderous roar of jangly guitar chords, avant-grooviness of the bass and jazzified drum fills with an abundance of metal energetic drive. The disharmonies harken back to the Ved Buens Ende days for sure but the Voivod connections are more in your face this time around.

The strengths of THE BLACK FLUX is that the album is impeccable in its delivery of this highly caustic stilted avant-garde metal that provides a bass groove and decorates it with freakery from all angles however THE BLACK FLUX fails to exude the same wow factor that “Carheart” does. While this album perfectly adheres to the formula set out by the debut, it seems more like some of the dynamics had been tamped down a bit for more of a crossover appeal that would bleed into the alternative metal world. While not bad in any way, THE BLACK FLUX does seem a bit like a retread without any new ideas added to the mix and despite the extras of violin, piano and slide guitar, they aren’t really that prevalent in the mix. For Voivod fans and those who want to hear a more mainstream approach to the Ved Buens Ende style then this will enthrall your eardrums for sure as its an excellent album but doesn’t quite seem to engage in the variations that made the debut so exciting and unique.

VIRUS Carheart

Album · 2003 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Not to be confused with the German krautrock band from the early 70s with the same name, or the English thrash metal band from Brighton, England, or the Argentinian new wave band from the 80s, or the American punk rock band from Philadelphia, or the Canadian industrial metal band of the same name, or the Prague band from the Czech Republic, or (whew!) the Russian Eurodance act from Moscow, THIS band with the infectious moniker VIRUS emerged from the Norwegian capital city of Oslo and as i just pointed out did not pick the most original of names but like any successful pathogen adapted the perfect modes of transmission into the human psyche which makes this unique sounding act the best band named VIRUS of the lot!

Norwegian VIRUS is basically a continuation of the band Ved Buens Ende formed by multi-instrumentalist Carl-Michael Eide (aka Aggessor, Czral and Exhurtum) who has been quite prolific in the Norwegian avant-garde metal scene for not only his amazingly brilliant work on Ved Buens Ende’s classic “Written In Waters” but also for his work with Aura Noir, Dødheimsgard, Cadaver, Infernö, Ulver and Satyricon. While Eide’s emphasis has been predominantly in the world of progressive black metal, on Ved Buens Ende and the subsequent VIRUS project he shifted gears to a more avant-garde form of jazz influenced thrash metal that took the dissonant chord rampage of Voivod and fused them with the unorthodox behaviors of his Ved Buens Ende project which released only one album and moved on.

VIRUS had a much longer shelf life lasting from 2000 to 2018 but not exactly prolific since only four albums were released. The debut CARHEART was released in 2003 and followed in the footsteps of Ved Buens Ende’s avant-garde pioneering of genre mashups which at the turn of the millennium was still quite the adventurous move as such angular expressions in metal were more the exception rather than the rule. While one could compare CARHEART to one of Voivod’s more progressive albums that spanned from “Killing Technology” to “Nothingface,” VIRUS took the progressive aspects even further with avant-prog constructs teased out into jangly metal chord rampages with off-kilter time signatures gussied up by jazzified drumming prowess accompanied by contrasting segments of more atmospheric ambience.

While the guitar sounds are right out of the Voivod playbook, that’s pretty much where the similarities end although Eide’s vocal style may remind some of the Voivod stylistic approach but VIRUS offers a much more abstract form of metal with atonal guitar heft, heavily distorted tones and grooves that are somewhat accessible to follow yet offer enough curve balls to throw you off the intended trail. While this tight-knit sound is impeccable in delivery it’s really hard to believe that all these sounds are coming from the mere trio of Eide on guitar and vocals along with Petter Berntsen “Plenum" on bass and Einar Sjursø "Esso" on drums. There are also three guest backing vocalists who add more textural twists to the amplified jangled avant-garde oddities in store for your unsuspecting eardrums.

Perhaps the coolest part of VIRUS’ unique sound is how the three instruments play off each other and four instruments if you count the vocal counterpoints in the mix. Each has its own melodic groove and they contrast in a very jarring way yet somehow fuse together in a way where the musical delivery is easy to follow provided you have some affinity with the harsh noisy delivery process of bands like Voivod or some of the more avant-garde forms of metal. If you are unfamiliar with Ved Buens Ende then this may come off as a bit jarring and VIRUS like its predecessor is definitely an acquired taste as it requires you find an anchor buried deep within the bombastic grooves and walls of sound however this album flows in a unique way all the way through its 49 minute playing time and is pretty much a classic in the avant-garde metal world as it perfectly knits the perfect tapestry of Voivod inspired progressive thrash metal along with the jazzy experimental touches of its predecessor band. This VIRUS is completely infectious at least to those susceptible to its quirky idiosyncratic ways.

AZURE EMOTE The Third Perspective

Album · 2020 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
There are some bands that are just too weird, too wild and too outside the box of orthodoxies for the mainstream to even consider as producing viable music for consumption and despite the extremities of metal music, many metalheads are the most conservative of all finding a niche or two that they like and not deviating from within their boundaries or at least not very far. That means bands like Philadelphia’s AZURE EMOTE that while being based in extreme death metal but mixes in all kinds of non-metal elements such as electronica, progressive rock and even ethnic influences. just doesn’t jive well with many except for those like myself who happen to be nerdy enough to delve into every aspect of musical expression that exists. Oh well, it’s a lonely room but bands like AZURE EMOTE that take these nosedives into bizarre experimental places that few dare go make nerdism all worth while.

While this project led by multi-instrumentalist Mike Hrubovcak may not get a lot of love, his involvement with “real” metal projects that include Hypoxia, Monstrosity, Vile, Nader Sadek, Divine Rapture, Abraxas, Rumpelstilskin and XXX Maniak have, well at least his vocal performances on the California based brutal tech death metal band Vile have! This side project that consists of Hrubovcak on vocals, flute, maracas, straw, harmonica, keyboard, samples, electronics, drum programming along with drummer Mike Heller (Disembowel, Fear Factory, Malignancy, Success Will Write Apocalypse Across The Sky, System Divide, World Under Blood, Zillah) and fellow Rumpelstiltskin Grinder guitarist / bassist Ryan Moll has been missing in action since 2013’s “The Gravity Of Impermanence” and with such a title may have given the impression that this fringe project was a flash in the pan with no more to give.

Emerging from the crypts the project that hosted eleven musicians on “Gravity” returns as a mere trio in 2020 with the third album aptly titled THE THIRD PERSPECTIVE. The most immediate noticeable difference is that this one is a much more focused affair as the project’s first two albums were all over the place navigating the truly unexplored nooks and crannies between death metal, IDM, progressive rock and pretty much any other bizarre detour that Hrubovcak fancied to partake in. While using death metal as the canvas to paint upon, THE THIRD PERSPECTIVE manages to focus on tighter rhythms, more accessible styles of riffing and although the electronics and progressive rock elements are still in full regalia, they have been demoted to be the decorative artistic extras for the death metal basics with some occasional doom metal sounds for contrast. The jazz elements that were prevalent on “Gravity” such as the saxophone have been completely eliminated but there are still plenty of uses for the violin and electronic effects.

THE THIRD PERSPECTIVE delivers six tracks with two, “Dark Realms” and “Solitary Striving” racing past the ten minute mark with the latter closing track providing some of the most non-metal elements as the album pretty much sticks to the death metal playbook and using all the accoutrements as a nice psychedelic supplement with atmospheric extras. “Solitary Striving” is probably the most focused single track that this band has ever done. It begins with some electronic swirls, a female vocalist evoking tribal ritualistic vocal utterances with thick cloud covers of atmosphere and some recited poetry by Hrubovcek before breaking into the death metal routine but the track remains somewhere in between symphonic metal and melodic death metal and the key word for THE THIRD PERSPECTIVE is melodic. This is by far the most accessible album of the three. While “Chronicles Of An Aging Mammal” and “The Gravity Of Impermanence” were designed to alienate, this one clearly wishes to invite others to the party.

While more commercial in nature, AZURE EMOTE delivers another interesting slice of avant-garde metal based in death metal guitar riffs, growly vocals and blastbeats and channels the adventurous live wire keys, flute, violin and other instruments to craft an atmospheric counterpoint rather than a brume of cacophonous noise. Personally i love the first two albums for the extreme boldness of taking death metal into unthinkable territories but i find THE THIRD PERSPECTIVE to work on a completely different level and that one is a more orthodox delivery of the death metal aspects while the atmospheric and prog rock elements expanding the musical conversation. On the metal side of the equation, these guys deliver the expected chops with excellent technically infused metal bombast whereas on the atmospheric side envelop the compositions with moody surreal ambience and psychedelic detachment. Looks like no end in sight for this project and despite the more accessible approach this time around, AZURE EMOTE manages to craft an interestingly unique style of experimental metal.


Album · 2016 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
The Denton, TX band VAULTS OF ZIN got its start in 2011 with its self-titled release where this quartet of Rob Buttrum (drums), Greg Dixon (guitar / electric violin), Shane Hutchinson (bass / vocals) and Stephen Lucas (synthesizer) were inspired by the zeuhl rhythms of 1970s Magma along with other retro prog characteristics that once married with some modern day metal guitar distortion created a rather interesting new direction for France’s most significant contribution to the prog world. It took five whole years but the band finally released its sophomore album KADATH in 2016. Both the band’s name and title were inspired by H.P. Lovecraft as is the dark scary music that erupts from the five tracks.

While the Magma influences are still in play with the bubbling repetitive zeuhl rhythms providing the underpinning of the musical flow, KADATH has a more varied overall sound than the debut. Although the first album had a lot of early Univers Zero avant-prog characteristics, KADATH takes those even further with knotted angular workouts that are augmented with bizarre keyboards freakiness that would sound at home on many 70s prog extravaganzas along with very heavy guitar sounds that often crank out doom metal but more often exhibit a jittery counterpoint to the jazzy drumming and building of tension that leads to noisy crescendoes. In those ways there have been comparisons to both Toby Driver’s Maudlin of the Well and Kayo Dot as well as with the more atmospheric realms of France’s Nebelnest.

If you ask me though i think VAULTS OF ZIN adopt many of the characteristics of neighboring Yeti from Fort Worth where they create long sprawling psychedelic compositions that ooze on through time but are given the touches of complexity by the off-kilter drum rolls, guitar sustain and jittery chops, eerie synthesizer presence and most of all a lugubrious sounding violin that emerges from time to time. While the debut was entirely instrumental, KADATH does add some vocals here and there but for the most part KADATH eschews the vocal performances. When they do occur however, VAULTS OF ZIN sounds more like a sludge metal band with growly screams and extreme metal bravado however for the most part this one could pass as a psychedelic cosmic bypass into a strange new world. The music is more often tagged as avant-garde metal since the metal is omnipresent but just not done in a traditional metal manner.

The album is bookmarked by the longest tracks with “Amduat” rampaging onto the scene with some of the heaviest sounds on the album as doom metal riffs usher in the zeuhl rhythms and surreal atmospheres whereas the 22 minute finale “Moongate / Heart Girt With a Serpent” that pretty much summarizes the whole album with lengthy heady walks through the psychedelic pastures while implemented the bass grooves lollygag slowly with guitar feedback screeching from the background. While predominantly instrumental Shane Hutchinson screams through many segments and sounds a lot like Mastodon’s Brent Hinds on vocals. This is an album that is good to get lost in as it’s all about the turbulent atmospheres that take a more psychedelic version of avant-prog, adds some zeuhl rhythms and then turns it more aggressive with gnarled dissonant metal guitar sounds and vocals. Perhaps not to everyone’s tastes but works for me.

VAULTS OF ZIN Vaults of Zin

Album · 2011 · Avant-garde Metal
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siLLy puPPy
The Dallas-Ft Worth metropolitan area of Texas has been known for many different artists covering the musical spectrum emerging from its gravitational force with metal having been some of the most successful in recent years (think Pantera, Absu, Devourment etc) but hardly limited to the more aggressive side of music. Zeuhl however is definitely not one of the strong points of this area and although the style was born on French soil and continues to be dominated by that region of the world, every once in a while a band from somewhere totally un-French emerges that takes the Magma trademark off into new directions only this one is all instrumental.

Coming from Denton, TX where the music culture mostly revolves around the University of North Texas College of Music, this distant now-suburb city of the greater DFW metroplex has become more famous for its jazz studies program rather than proggy experimental metal gone zeuhl anomalies but strange things occur in the world and in this case a band that calls itself VAULTS OF ZIN which took the zeuhl rhythms of Magma and adopted some of the psychedelic sludge metal aspects of the Fort Worth, TX band Yeti which took the space rock sounds into a more distorted and energetic avant-garde metal direction.

So exactly what does VAULTS OF ZIN mean? For video gamers it’s obviously the second level of The Netherworld which is the 3rd episode of Quake which has seven levels total including another secret level, however the word ZIN also refers to a legend who can literally do everything and adapt to any situation and get along with any person. And such is this band VAULTS OF ZIN that has its cake and eats it too. Somehow this band skirts the tightrope walk of treading the world of zeuhl rhythmic reality while dishing out what sounds more like a Univers Zero style of avant-prog while adding elements of metal but it gets even weirder with the addition of an aggressive violin.

This debut EP only consists of four tracks but they still almost reach 27 minutes but so wickedly cool it is. The zeuhl rhythms dominate the soundscape but the album / EP whatever you wanna call it is very interesting in its diversity. It does come across a lot like neighboring Yeti but this debut at least is grounded in the world of zeuhl where the bass line crafts a receptive carbon-chain-like infinity groove that keeps the whole thing anchored. Guitars are delivered in both heavy chunky sludge metal sloppiness as well as freaked out psychedelic avant-prog Univers Zero styled bleakness. And then there are taped sound effects and the extra touches of the violin and tripped out synthesizers. The four songs presented here manage to be progressive, heavy and psychedelic simultaneously as well as independently. This is a great album just to get lost in and ends with some sort of Eastern chant.

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