When the abrasive and aural assault of grindcore gets mixed with the minds of people willing to push the genre’s boundaries and mix some of the most polarized genres of music, the result is strange, inaccessible and just downright questionable. In the strange world we live in, grindcore has bred with it’s distant in-law jazz and a few dedicated groups have provided us with some of the most challenging recordings we have encountered. What follows is taste of the more accomplished bands in the curious world of avant grind.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jljOQP4OlB0?feature=player_embedded]If you had to put a face to the genre of avant-garde metal, then two people instantly spring to mind. Most obviously, Mike ‘General’ Patton, for his far reaching work in bands both listenable and ‘challenging’ that brought this abhorrent music and thrust it into the faces of a larger audience. Less obvious, but equally as important, would be the deranged mind of John Zorn — saxophonist and ritual eardrum abuser, who originally refined his craft through deconstructions of jazz greats and movie soundtracks.
Naked City was brought together in 1988 for Zorn to test the ‘rock band format’. Their debut self-titled album took liberal amounts of Zorn’s jazz background and ran it through the grinder, with songs shifting through smooth and soothing laid-back jazz to discordant, meandering free-noise, whilst still managing to touch every point in between. Covers of classics by Ennio Morricone and Ornette Coleman were reinterpreted into monsterous abominations of sound, sometimes resembling only a crude outline of what once was.
Naked City was a fascinating but testing listen through and through, but nothing would compare to the band’s follow-up EP Torture Garden. Comprised of the ‘hardcore miniatures’ recorded during the sessions and showcased on the band’s first and second full-lengths, Torture Garden rides the fine line between brilliance and insanity by taking it’s cues from both grindcore and free jazz. Tracks blur into the next as a mesh of screams and Zorn’s patented sax screech set the stage for frantic semi-structured drumming and feedback. Whereas before the band were interested in still resembling ‘music’ in some way, here it’s the ‘everything, including the kitchen sink’ mentality that prevails. At the heart of it, Torture Garden embodies the spirit of avant-garde music — it’s brilliant disregard for basically all of thel convential ‘rules’ is what led the aforementioned Mike Patton to proclaim ‘Naked City makes all other bands look fat and lazy’.
From there on Naked City would continue to go on make strides in avant-garde through albums such as Grand Guignol, which contained covers of classical pieces and the guest vocals of Yamatsuka Eye, and the droning sludge metal of Leng Tch’e, forever cementing their status of one of the premier names in forward-thinking music, whose mentality and ideas can be found in nearly every band featured this week. – DL
What do you get if Ion Dissonance decided that it fancied Naked City as a wife? Psychofagist of course. This Italian youngster took mathcore for a spin on it’s debut album and decided that mathcore was far too easy. Their 2002 self titled effort pummeled the listener with perpetual dissonance, insane time signatures and enough theory to make a jazz major sweat. This became the groundwork for the way their sound developed in the coming years because despite the insanity, the debut album is pretty conventional in terms of mathcore. Across several splits and EP’s, Psychofagist developed their sound and started to bring in different elements to their music. Sampling the odd folk song, a piano break here and some jazz improv there until they arrived at their second album where the Avant-Garde really kicks in.
Channeling John Zorn, Psychofagist introduced an ensemble of saxophones to their music and became much more intricate in their instrumentation. The bass bumbles along frantically as if it is running away from the other instruments. The saxophones creen, moan and squeal frantically while the guitars thrash about. It might be too busy for it’s own good, but that’s what drags Il Secondo Tragico out of the mathcore realm and into grind territory. Psychofagist is absolutely bonkers and Il Secondo Tragico‘s frantic and insane nature has cemented their spot in the world of avant garde metal.
This elusive polish quartet is one of the more experimental on the list. With only one release under their belt called Gajin Gabba and very little info, it’s hard to tell you much about them. However, I can tell you about the album. The best way to describe this band is a channel changer. Constantly flipping between genres, seemingly at the touch of a button. Now imagine that the shows are generally engaging and although there is some tripe, that’s alright because nobody likes everything on TV anyways. Blast Muzungu are really good at what they do. The list of genres they could fit in is staggering. Their grindcore, noise, jazz, funk, grunge, bluegrass and punk sections are all very authentic sounding. All they lack is cohesion. It’s almost forgivable though because their mish-mash of styles is distracting enough that you’ll enjoy it first and question it later.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EJUFW7T-jY?feature=player_embedded]Most notably however, their jazz, jazz-fusion and funk sections feel the most organic. Although the styles changes are blunt, the tones and production they utilize are so spot on and accurate that it’s hard to criticize anything but the lack of flow. Definitely worth at least a few listens if you’re interested in what funk-jazz-noisegrind collaboration would sound like.
It’s hard to justify Psudoku as Avant Garde. Being one of the most straight-forward bands we feature this week, it’s probably better if I just avoid the Avant Garde tag on this one and just call them Experimental Space Grind from here on out. Despite the conventions though, nothing really sounds like Psudoku. Nothing at all. Warm, fuzzy and jagged guitars bounce in all directions while the drums flutter about. Then our cosmic one-man grind band grunts into the mic and it echoes in and out as frantically as everything else. The guitars are unique tonally and musically. It’s as if the late Freddie Green of the infamous Count Basie Quartet decided to make lyricless jazz-grind. Occasionally sampling beeps or celestial whirs, Psudoku really paints a vivid picture of what grind in space would sound like.
This is really the greatest mixture of jazz and grindcore without dipping into mathcore territory. It’s almost organic sounding and although it’s a relatively new release, I can definitely see grind veterans taking notes from Psudoku’s unorthodox approach.