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.

Journey to the NOLA Swamps – The Birth of Sludge Metal

We’ve covered a fair bit of ground with our Starter Kit series, where we select a handful of key records that highlight a niche musical style or penetrate the prolific status of a staple genre. Unfortunately, this format doesn’t lend itself to covering proto-genres—microcosms of musical history comprised of a specific set of albums released in a fixed period of time. But these movements are crucial to the evolution of our favorite genres, particularly when it comes to the trajectory of sludge metal. What’s become a multifaceted and often refined style was once a disparate lineage of bands from different genres who all applied the “sludge factor” in different measures. While you won’t find a dedicated section for proto-sludge at your preferred music store, the following albums an artists laid the framework for the modern sludge landscape. So whether your sludge purveyors of choice come from the atmospheric, blackened or progressive sects of he genre, they’re all indebted to the groundbreaking statements these albums made.

White Suns – Psychic Drift

Over the past several releases, New York-based White Suns have crafted an abrasive and esoteric noise rock formula. Rather than operating in the genre’s standard fare of “noisy rock,” the trio of Kevin Barry (vocals, guitar), Rick Visser (guitar, electronics) and Dana Matthiesen (drums, electronics) have opted instead for a seamless marriage of noise and experimental rock, with an elevated mood of unease conjured by Barry’s cryptic lyricism and spoken word delivery. It’s a peculiar formula which unfolded spectacularly across nine disorienting tracks on the band’s previous effort, Totem (2014). The album presented an abundance of these unhinged noise rock bastardizations accented by extended passages of dark ambiance and industrial noise that created a painful degree of suspenseful dread before the band finally released the listener back into its chaos-ridden assault. It’s the styling of these moments that composes the bulk of Psychic Drift, a four-track bludgeoning anchored by a nightmarish lyrical* journey as disturbing as the music that engulfs Barry’s narration.

Grind My Gears – Dark Habits

OK. I’m challenging myself with this one. Taking twelve minutes to write about a twelve minute debut EP can and will be done. Just watch me, I don’t back down from a struggle, even if it’s with hate filled morons on the Internet who wanna send empty death threats to me. Mate, you’re a cunt and I hope that something heavy lands on your head. Something as heavy as this. Not so much grind today but this definitely gets my gears working. Hard. And it’s Scottish too. Moist.

Swans & Michael Gira – The Great Annihilator/Drainland (Reissue)

Though Swans has had several sonic reincarnations, The Great Annihilator is one of the most important phoenixes in the flock. After five perverse, punishing records, Michael Gira and crew began to slowly drift up from the gutters into some puzzling territory. The band followed up Children of God (1987) with an unexpected absolution and released The Burning World (1989), a collection of gothic-tinged neofolk album which was easily the most pleasant offering they’d composed up until that point. Then came sister albums White Light From the Mouth of Infinity (1991) and Love of Life (1992), which strayed slightly from their predecessor but took the general framework along with them. Swaying between dismal post punk, morbid folk and unidentifiable bliss, these albums flirted with a sound that Gira and crew would perfect on The Great Annihilator (1995), one of the greatest achievements of Swans initial life as a band.

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…

Hey! Listen to netra!

From Ingrats’ opening jazzy piano and drum duo on “Gimme a break,” it’s apparent that one-man experimental black metal project netra is taking on the genre from a more sophisticated headspace than the torch-bearing, forest-wandering forefathers of the genre. It’s easy to connect the dots to more progressive-leaning artists like Ulver or Altar of Plagues, and to a lesser degree, Norway’s Shining, but those comparisons fall short of capturing netra’s homogenous blend of nostalgic blackened melodies with ambitious electronic leanings.

Heavy Vanguard: Coil // The Ape Of Naples

Industrial music and the avant-garde have always had a tightly-wound relationship. The first industrial acts were essentially experimental acts like Einstürzende Neubauten, Throbbing Gristle, and today’s highlight, Coil, that all eschewed the traditional electronic music of the time (the growing idea of new wave music) in favor of something dark and mechanical. And…

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.