By Deacon Wolfe
Are you a metalhead who has found that even the most brutal of death metal has lost its heaviness? Have you recently found yourself searching for something truly otherworldly and extreme? Then boy, do I have the genre for you! Avant-Garde metal has a storied history of taking the natural aggression and heaviness of metal, and vastly increasing it both in its previous qualities, as well as giving it more qualities in its emotional expression and instrumentation!
Gorguts – Obscura
The third album by Canadian death metal band Gorguts (great name, I know) is known by many as the progenitor of the avant-garde metal genre. This album took the previously long-standing framework of death metal and applied extended classical composition techniques. Across its hour-long runtime, the band takes you across hundreds of time signatures, and thousands of non-traditional harmonies. It’s dissonant, it’s brutal, and it’s emotional. This album truly reinvented metal, and it’s only the first on our list. If you want to understand the true root of the avant-garde in metal, this is a great place to start.
Deathspell Omega – FAS – Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeternum
Just as Obscura reinvented death metal with a decidedly avant-garde outlook, so did Deathspell Omega, but this time to black metal. FAS borrows the atmosphere and extremity of black metal, and takes the speed up to eleven, with dissonance to match. The end result becomes something excruciating, terrifying, otherworldly, and most of all… beautiful. It’s significantly shorter than Obscura, being only 46 minutes, but within this small record are more ideas than in some bands’ entire discography. If you want to listen to a truly demonic, dread-inducing, legitimately frightening record, then this is your starting point.
Imperial Triumphant – Vile Luxury
Imperial Triumphant are one of the newer bands to the experimental metal scene, but they’re certainly not boring in their approach. Imperial Triumphant are, in many ways… not actually a metal band, but rather a jazz ensemble. Vile Luxury takes you on a journey across the slums of New York, proverbially beaming images of decadent skyscrapers, greedy stockbrokers, and destructive pollution, all done by conjuring Miles Davis within the framework of blackened death metal. In a way, it’s a combination of Bitches Brew and Demigod, all while constantly swirling and keeping you on your toes. If you have plenty of experience with jazz, but you want to see it applied in an extreme context, then this record is for you.
Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse
An extremely recent output, Imperative Imperceptible Impulse is a lot like the Obscura of the modern era. This album is done with an entirely traditional metal ensemble- two guitarists, a vocalist, a bassist, and a drummer, but yet it manages to become so much more than that. It grows and swells with constantly shifting extreme polyphony, it bites your spirit with multi-chordal harmony, and it makes you want to destroy everything in sight because of its pure, unabashed brutality. This album didn’t necessarily reinvent the avant-wheel, but in a lot of ways it perfected it. If you want something that’s not necessarily the most inventive, but absolutely the most brutal… then you’d want to hear this piece.
Uboa – The Origin of my Depression
While technically not metal, this album definitely deserves a spot on this list for introducing the offshoots of avant-garde and experimental metal. This album is a combination of death industrial (which is a subgenre of noise and power electronics that emphasizes bleak atmospheres, drones, and brooding textures) and sludge metal. Across a shockingly low 40 minutes, Uboa shows you exactly what it’s like to experience gender dysphoria, melding distorted and disturbing guitar along with extreme noise to create a hopeless and horrific atmosphere. By the end of the album, you’ll be sobbing, in tears as you wonder how the world could possibly hurt the artist so much. It’s an extremely personal album, not to mention a virulent and heartbreaking album. If you want to feel naught but true despair, then this album will satisfy your urges.
Kayo Dot – Choirs of the Eye
And for the album that I believe completely sums up the avant-garde in metal, Choirs of the Eye shines as an absolute monolith. 55 minutes in length, this album takes you on a voyage across fantastical atmospheres, personal expression, and all sorts of genres and possibilities. Electroacoustic classical, dissonant black metal, post-rock, shoegaze. This album does everything so seamlessly and gorgeously, and nothing quite expresses the application of classical into metal like this album. If you listen to any album from this list, I would recommend listening to this one.
Avant-Garde metal is a truly expressive and experimental genre. These six albums barely scratch its surface, as there are hundreds of artists in the underground across the world. Look carefully, there might just be an artist in your local scene, I know there are in mine.
Written by: Preethi Mangadu