It was only suitable that we kick off things in the avant-garde metal week by starting with the genre’s progenitors and capital influences. However, that’s done with, and now we move on to examine a more modern form of this type of music. Or, to be more precise, one of its modern forms. Without a doubt, avant-garde has seeped into nearly every corner of the metalverse, and it is barely possible to talk of it as an established genre rather than a loosely defined aesthetic. Even if you consider our own playlists, does it really make sense to lump Queen and Gorguts into the same genre? Do they really have anything in common other than breaking boundaries and being ‘weird’?
But break boundaries they do, and so do the countless bands they have inspired. So then, when looking at contemporary avant-garde metal, what would be a good place to start? There might not be a clear one, so instead I’ll just talk about the style that strikes the closest to my heart: death metal. While not as suitable for abrasive experimentation as grindcore or black metal, there is certainly an unhealthy dose of avant-garde death metal that is up for grabs. Heck, there’s probably too much of it to go into detail about every band. That’s why I’ve chosen four albums in particular by the bands that stand out as the weirdest, most unique, and of course, most interesting, in the whole bunch. Hopefully at least one will blow your minds.
1. Impureza – La Iglesia Del Odio
Out of these four bands, Impureza look like both the most and least puzzling one. On paper, it seems all they do is connect two disparate styles, constantly remaining within either (or both) of them. There’s no wild genre fluctuations here, and it’s not even difficult to listen to for anyone that is apt in extreme music. But seriously, tech-death and flamenco? I’m not saying that no one has thought of it before, but I’m pretty sure no one has ever went to the extent that these Frenchmen (?!) have. La Iglesia Del Odio is not just chock full of both steamy acoustics and unabashed brutality, it actually manages to merge these two together into a homogenous sound. Even the heaviest of riffs have a distinct Spanish flavor to them, and oftentimes throughout the album, rather than saving the flamenco bits for clean breaks, Impureza layer them on top of their usual M.O. of chunky, technical riffage, blast beats and growls that belch out the Spanish lyrics in an aggressive, yet intelligible manner. It all makes for a very intriguing listen that you will not find anywhere else.
2. Pyrrhon – An Excellent Servant but a Terrible Master
Just like that we’ve went from the fiery soundscapes of Spain to the most horrifying acid trip music will ever give you. NYC’s Pyrrhon are an entirely different brand of avant-garde, yet, for those that put sufficient effort into deciphering their sound, an equally rewarding one. We’ve already featured a review of their record, but there’s never a bad time to remind you how awesome this band is. Stitching together free-form jazz, heavily dissonant death metal, and nightmare-ish psychedelia in equal measure, Pyrrhon go out of their way to, simply put, scare the shit out of you. Yet in the process, they deliver a great amount of musical substance for anyone with the ear to pick it up. Whether it’s destroyed time signatures, highly proficient licks and solos, or suspenseful atmosphere, there are plenty of moments of sheer brilliance throughout An Excellent Servant but a Terrible Master, which makes this an album worthy of sacrificing your eardrums to.
3. Gigan – Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes
Where Pyrrhon makes an aural recreation of an acid trip, Gigan adds bath salts to the equation. Which is to say, the music is just as headache-inducing and terrifying, but that much more… violent. Gigan are the only band included in this article that have released more than one full length, and while their debut was also great, it is on Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes that they came into their own. Their mix of spazzed-out deathgrind, trippy electronics, and sci-fi themed lyrics is suffocating, yet, as with Pyrrhon, there is an unusual, non-masochistic sense of enjoyment that springs out when listening to it. Ranging from the inhumane gravity blasts of ‘Vespelmadeen Terror’ to the almost catchy riffing that opens up ‘The Raven and the Crow’, Gigan push extreme metal and music in general to its very limit, as if the whole album is an experiment to see how far they can fuck with musical norms without devolving into mere noise.
4. Wormed – Planisphærium
Even though Gigan are my personal favorite of the bunch, it is undisputed that Wormed are the biggest anomaly in death metal. In fact, these Spaniards, while not avant-garde in any obvious sense of the word, make some of the sickest, most fucked up music humankind has had the (dis)pleasure of being subjected to. I say displeasure, because just about 0.01% of the world’s metalhead population bears the capacity to even endure Wormed, and it takes only a tenth of a second to find out if you’re a member of this ‘elite’. The band seems as if it formed just for the sake of shutting up all the elitists in those endless discussions of “who is the most brutal band ever”. However, Wormed do more than just being impossibly brutal in order to distinguish themselves from the pack. While you shouldn’t expect to find jazz flourishes or atmospheric breaks on Planisphærium (save for the 12-second ‘Fragments’), it doesn’t quite sound like any other breeing/slamming band, either. The instrumentation is surprisingly skillful, the lyrics account for science phenomena on a PhD-level of knowledge, and the vocals make you question whether it’s really a human being that fronts the band. Rings of Saturn, take note: THIS is how you do alien metal.
I’ve gone through four of the most infamously acknowledged bands to recently spring up in this niche genre, but, like I said, there’s shit tons more. From the vacuum cleaner-reminiscent Portal, to the desolate soundscapes of Ulcerate, death metal offers up a lot of potential for those that are looking for more than a regular sonic beating. Suffice to say, if you like your weird with a heavy dose of broots, it is hard to remain unsatisfied.