Metal is much more varied than people give it credit for. Sure, from the outside it might look like a bunch of dudes being evil and playing music that is faster and more technical than necessary, but once you’ve seen how deep the well goes, the breadth and scope of the genre is quite obvious. Far be it from me to preach to the choir about the endless array of subgenres with their own niche flourishes, though. I love this music dearly, and its esoteric nature just makes it that much more special to me.

Since I’ve delved into the world of metal and have fallen into my own specific tastes, nothing has gotten me more excited over the years than metal bands who can pull off wild leaps in genres of music. I’m talking about a pivotal moment in a song where the band throws convention and their own signature out of the window for a moment and explores their own brief rendition of anything from jazz to funk and country. I’m not sure why, but these moments of genrebusting (as I like to call it) is easily my biggest draw to progressive music, and I can’t get enough of it.

A wild ho-down appears.

My first experience with genrebusting was an obvious one; Between the Buried and Me‘s penchant for experimentation has taken them from their practically technical deathcore sound and into the well traveled roads of blues and jazz and off the beaten path into polka and, as you can see from the above cut from ‘Ants of the Sky,’ bluegrass. I could not imagine a post-Alaska BTBAM album without at least one wild leap into the unknown.

This practice obviously didn’t start with Between the Buried and Me. Bands like Rush and Dream Theater have been known to break out into odd territory at times, with Rush doing reggae jams during live performances and Dream Theater doing a relatively recent ode to ragtime on ‘The Dark Eternal Night‘ from 2007’s Systematic Chaos. Faith No More built their whole career on defying categorization, with a collective repertoire spanning hip-hop, bossa nova, thrash, and country/western. These bands are oft-cited for inspiring Between the Buried and Me, but even since they joined the scene, the trend is on the rise.

This is a band who got famous for a rap-metal song. Think about that.

Blame ADD if you want, but over the last few years, more younger bands in the progressive metalcore scene have been throwing in new genre influences to keep audiences (and likely themselves) on their toes. The spastic antics of iwrestledabearonce have lead to some interesting breaks (slap-happy slide-guitar on ‘You Aint No Family’ and a “mockabilly” section on ‘You Know That Aint Them Dogs Real Voices.’ Arsonists Get All The Girls have been toying with the idea for a while (it’s all over their 2009 album Portals).

That outro is pure class.

And it isn’t just a core thing either. Opeth made waves when they started picking up acoustic instruments to break up their death metal sound. It may not seem like much now, but at the time, it was fairly groundbreaking. Lykathea Aflame have combined their death metal sound with new age and Monolith Deathcult threw some electronica in their album Triumvirate. The whole avant-garde genre is riddled with metal bands taking weird turns into operatic and classical music.

Most recently, both Sigh and Gorod put out albums in the last month which made leaps and bounds into new territory, which sparked the inspiration for this piece. Hearing Sigh go full-out noir blues on ‘Amnesia’ and Gorod’s samba funk spin on ‘Varangian Paradise’ is already making my year.

Above: Shaft on holiday

This phenomenon needs to catch on more, as it undoubtedly will as we run out of room to expand in the musical realm. There’s only so many note combinations you could create, so we’ll start seeing them done in different styles in an effort to stay interesting, and I can’t wait to hear what kind of strange places we end up. Do you have other examples of wild genre-bending and want to continue the discussion? Hit the comments section below.

– JR