Ehnahre – The Marrow

Literature has been one of the foremost sources of inspiration for metal lyricism and composition alike, regardless of subgenre. The list of examples is significant—Ernest Hemingway and Cobalt, Georges Bataille and Deathspell Omega, H. P. Lovecraft and seemingly everyone, and so on. Drawing inspiration from a novel is a challenging but relatively structured undertaking; a plot can be interpreted into numerous sonic and lyrical directions but will always follow the same trajectory of its narrative. Poetry contrasts this process by its very nature, as its natural code of symbolic meaning and suggestive prose necessitates musical decoding drawn from a strictly thematic place. Even poems with a decipherable narrative are often told in a verbose, indirect manner that challenges metal lyricists and composers to write with a liberated hand, looking beyond the words on the page to a deeper understanding of the poem’s true meaning and mood. Agalloch’s interpretation of W. B. Yeats is a stellar example of this process being executed beautifully, as is the latest offering from Ehnahre, a Boston-based avant-garde metal collective who count Kay Dot alumni among their ranks. Their incredible four-part song cycle on The Marrow captures the essence of Theodore Roethke’s eponymous poem* through consuming landscapes of avant-garde death-doom that are as ridden with despair as the poet’s initial musing on whether or not life is worthwhile.

Akercocke – Renaissance In Extremis

While Akercocke aren’t necessarily what one would call a legendary band, they’re definitely a cult favorite, and very well-revered by those who know of them. As such, their disappearance was a big blow to fans of progressive death metal. Back in the day, Opeth and Akercocke were one of the…

Hey! Listen to Område!

“Avant-garde” is arguably the most misused genre descriptor in modern metal. Whether in blog posts or comment sections, there’s always someone that’s heard a slightly off-kilter metal album and immediately slapped on the old “A-G” tag. That said, I’m not going to use Område as an example to parse out the differences between avant-garde, experimental and progressive metal (an article worth writing by someone who actually wants that to be their hill to die on). I’m actually here because of the French duo’s invigorating take on avant-garde metal—an approach that captures the essence of the genre in gorgeous, meticulous detail. Whereas bands like maudlin of the Well and Pan.Thy.Monium found success by thrusting death metal into avant-garde territory, Område excel by nailing down the core of avant-garde metal and renovating it’s structure with intricate furnishings and vibrant coats of paint. There may be no shortage of high-quality albums to recommend to metal fans flirting withe the avant-garde, but there are a sparse few that rival Nåde’s marriage of accessibility and bold artistry.

Hey! Listen to Sly & The Family Drone and Dead Neanderthals!

Ever press send on an important email only to glance it over and find a glaring typo? That’s roughly how I felt when the name “Colin Webster” popped in my head right after we published our second Jazz Quarterly of the year. For those unaware, Webster is a prolific saxophone madman whose constantly challenging his instrument and ever-widening group of collaborators (for more on Webster, read Bandcamp’s excellent piece on him, Travis Laplante and other essential modern saxophonists). With Webster’s name in mind, I reluctantly pulled out my phone over my morning cup of coffee and checked his Bandcamp. I knew full well I’d find a new, exceptional album worthy of inclusion in our latest Jazz Quarterly, and sure enough, Molar Wrench fits this description perfectly. The four-track maelstrom pits together sax, percussion and electronics for abrasive free jazz that’s harboring a voyeuristic obsession with noise.

Yazz Ahmed – La Saboteuse

World fusion’s possibilities are truly endless; this year alone, clarinetist/composer Wacław Zimpel led his ensemble Saagara through a blend of jazz and Indian classical music on 2, while Nguyên Lê and Ngo Hong Quang spliced Vietnamese folk music and jazz guitar on Hà Nội Duo. Not only does Yazz Ahmed ‘s phenomenal La Saboteuse add to 2017’s exceptional world fusion offerings, her sophomore album is easily one of the most significant releases in modern Arabic jazz. The London-based composer, trumpeter and flugelhorn player leads an eclectic nine-member ensemble through psychedelic chamber pieces that effortlessly continue in the legacy of Arabic jazz greats like Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Rabih Abou-Khalil and Anouar Brahem.

John Frum – A Stirring in the Noos

Man, this has been quite the year for weird, skronky extreme metal, hasn’t it? In the past four full months, we’ve gotten releases ranging from great to genre-defining from Sunless, Dodecahedron, Ingurgitating Oblivion, Artificial Brain, and Ulsect, in roughly that order chronologically. It’s almost too much to handle, especially in a genre as heady and labyrinthine as this. Truly, our collective cup has been runnething over for some time now, and now John Frum is here to refill our cup once again, whether we like it or not.

If Austrian Trees Could Talk – Bartholomäus Traubeck’s Years

If you’re like me, you probably forgot Arbor Day existed until just now (or, in my case, while staring blankly at your work calendar during a slow afternoon). It’s a shame Nebraska is the only state that’s dubbed international-plant-a-tree-day a civic holiday, especially when you compare trees’ importance to our general disinterest in their conservation. Not to mention they helped name one of our favorite post-rock bands. Besides inspiring this eco-warrior rant, my mid-afternoon attempts to avoid working also led to an unexpected epiphany—I’ve yet to write a proper post about Bartholomäus Traubeck’s exceptional album Years, a piece of art that takes more influence from trees than any other album in existence. Nature is a central influence for some of my favorite artists, especially black metal projects like Botanist and Grima. But Traubeck takes this a step further by literally making trees part of the lineup.

Pharmakon – Contact

The Ancient Greek word “φάρμακον” (or “pharmakón”) is ingrained with a dichotomous etymology and, by extension, philosophical implications. At its root, the word has a conflicted translation of representing any drug, appropriate to use for discussing either a remedy or a poison. Yet, when extended to its use in the culture of…

Soundtracks for the Blind: The Necks // Unfold

One of the most unique and consistent contemporary avant-garde bands, The Necks are perhaps most notable for carving out and perfecting their own meditative niche. On the surface, the Australian group’s roster solicits expectations for a standard jazz trio – Chris Abrahams (piano, organ), Tony Buck (drums, percussion) and Lloyd Swanton (bass) seem to hearken back to the golden age of bare-bones bop and bandleaders like Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk. But these Aussies differ in how far they stretch their jazz roots into the avant-garde, comparable to but far beyond albums like John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Pharaoh Sander’s Karma. Though there’s a distinctly transcendental, spiritual vibe to The Necks’ music, the trio’s approach to this style is heavily informed by the sparseness of artists like Evans and Monk, with a considerable focus on minimalism, improvisation and ambiance that stretches their musical atmosphere from a smoky, luxurious piano lounge into a general ether of organic landscapes.

Various Artists – NOISE

In their down time from story-boarding episodes of Rick and Morty and Mr. Pickles for Adult Swim, the team at Williams Street Productions has been an odd source of quality underground music compilations and albums. Not only does their catalog feature works from the likes of Captain Murphy (a.k.a Flying Lotus) and Destruction Unit alongside annual, multi-genre compilations, nearly all of these albums are entirely free to stream and download. If you’re searching for a negative here, there isn’t one, a point the company proved yet again last month with their most avant-garde offering to date. The appropriately blunt title for NOISE should point to the abrasiveness of this collection of tracks; an eclectic range of compositions from an equally broad roster of artists, all of whom approach “noise” as a malleable concept meant to be stretched to its limit.