When looking through a tag in music curation services, encountering “avant-garde black metal” means clicking play will either result in something incredible or terrible. Few artists have the combination of self-irreverence, self-respect, sense of the fundamentals and how to think outside of them to be able to pull off the latter. As if that’s not enough, take a black metal band, add a saxophone, grandiose clean singing and yelling, a blues/jazz/funk tint – does it sound potentially disastrous already? Several bands this year alone have attempted this formula and failed. Well, good news is, the Greek masterminds Aenaon have totally nailed it with Hypnosophy.
What makes Hypnosophy work, in contrast to their peers? There has to be something, because this has no right to work as well as it does. Aenaon take fairly established ideas that aren’t that original, but combine them in outlandish ways to create a unique mix. The journey of listening to Hyponsophy goes as such: At the base of the framework sits a foundation of typical black metal – trem picked riffs, fast drumming and chords that alternate between being melodic and dissonant. Then begins a deviation from that standard. The vocals are akin to Dødheimsgard with a “blackened theatrical” feel, blending screams and shrieks with dramatic yelling and other overtly emotive sounds.
But that’s not where the vocal experimentation ends, as singer Astrous incorporates singing that is borderline power metal. The guitar work starts to follow the experimentation of the vocals as it strays into territories that border on blackjazz (thanks for coining the term, Shining (NOR)) but in the more popular understanding of the genre rather than the fusion-based strain that normally permeates metal. This all results in a mix that can be described as enjoyable, cheesy, serious, simple, complex and other similarly juxtaposed adjectives. Again: there’s no way this should work, but it totally does, as the band embrace their dichotomy to the fullest and make the most of it instead of trying to use it as a crutch.
Speaking of Shining, one of the more prominent and unique aspects of Aenaon’s sound is the saxophone usage. Metal bands that bring out the old horn usually use it in a very constrained, typical way, which has led to the instrument being typecast into a sound that is oddly tired despite how rare it is. Aenaon completely sidestep that by sticking to their motto of “play it totally straight no matter how ridiculous this is”. The sax usage on this album is absolutely ridiculous in a metal context, as they go full on cheesy sax blues with it. And again, it somehow works. It’s less “bring out the sax guest spot now” and more integrating it into the core of their oddball sound. Coupled with the melodramatic vocals, this leads to incredibly satisfying moments that can’t really be achieved by any other band. Really, not everyone can pull off sax leads over blast beats like in “Tunnel”. Well, maybe Sigh could do something similar, and fact Aenaon’s influence can probably traced back directly to the Japanese masters of the avant-garde, which is a very flattering comparison.
Hypnosophy is brave, creative and excellent. Aenaon put together elements that only madmen would think to combine, and play it totally straight faced to create one of the most satisfying and catchy release of the year. This is a release that can be pointed to when someone asks “What’s the appeal of avant-garde metal?” – it should immediately grab their attention and expand their conception of what can be done in metal. And the album still manages to be more than just a barrage of gimmicks, surpassing the listmaker-esque definitions that are so easy to get trapped by when making music like this. “Experimental black metal with sax, funky riffs and theatrical vocals” sounds like a one trick pony, but there’s actual substance here as well, making return listens even more appealing. Be it deciphering the awesome lyrics, uncovering the many layers of the sound or just wanting to listen to how flamboyant every moment is, Hypnosophy keeps delivering.
Hypnosophy released on November 25th, 2016 and is currently available via Bandcamp.