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TO Staff – Avant-Garde Highlights (Pt. 1)

When does one classify a band as “avant-garde”? In my experience, it has been used as an umbrella term to describe a sound that is oddly different from the usual metal sub genres.  “Avant-Garde”-ism tends to manifest across different sub genres and styles and this makes it difficult to look at it as a sub genre all by itself.

So after much debate about what bands could be fitted into this highlights article, the Transcending Obscurity staff have narrowed down on the following albums that best represent avant-garde metal. These records may prove difficult to get into, but once understood, the rewards offered by these albums justify the effort. ~ Shrivatsan R (Deputy Editor)

Aluk Todolo (France) – Voix (The Ajna Offensive)

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A mysterious french outfit with a sound that is as distinctive as it is hypnotic. Psychedelic drones á la krautrock, feedback noise, screaming guitars meets progressive black metal, and the result is hard to describe. ‘Voix’ is a single piece divided into six separate parts, though the transition between them is not always easy to spot. There’s always something moving, so as the rhythm section may stay repetitive the guitars can go from low-level plucking that gently builds up to a wall of noise. If you are familiar with early krautrock bands such as Faust or Can, you probably know of how these bands used sound waves and rhythmic repetition to create a meditative feel to the music. And I would say Aluk Todolo is resembling that feeling with the way their music is in constant motion, but their approach is heavier, more noisy and much more intense. All in all, this is a great record that I should appeal to fans of Acid Mothers Temple as well as Blut Aus Nord. ~ Eirik Vandal

Colosso (Portugal) – Obnoxious (Self Released)

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This intriguing Portuguese band create a contemporary and dissonant form of death metal that opens up new forms of expression for the genre. Forward-thinking, the band weave in atmospheric and industrial bits in the music to a stunning effect. Otherwise hard-hitting and pulsating with energy, ‘Obnoxious’ is an album that’s worth checking out. There are hardly any parallels for this band and a modern and practical form of a grooving Gorguts could be one among them. ~ Kunal Choksi (Editor-in-Chief)

Dødheimsgard (Norway) – A Umbra Omega (Peaceville Records)

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DHG, or Dødheimsgard if you will, is one of those bands that take their sweet time between releases. But eight years proved to be worth the wait when ‘A Umbra Omega’ dropped in 2015. DHG since 1999’s ‘666 International’ has been one of the most exciting things to happen to black metal. Though their days as a conventional black metal are way behind them, there’s still a certain element of it though in their perplexing sonic psychosis. For the uninitiated, I guess this album will sound chaotic and messy. But if you pay more attention to the whole spectrum of what they do and how well it all works together, you’ll start to understand. This is meticulously crafted music with no regards to convention or trend. There is still a lot of tremolo riffing and blast beats, but what makes this album a masterpiece is how well they merge this with experimental jazz, spazzy electronics and general avant-garde weirdness. If you´re looking for an album to reference when trying to explain what avant-garde metal is, ‘A Umbra Omega’ couldn’t fit the term better. ~ Eirik Vandal

Gargantua (France) – Avant-Propos (Self Released)

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Avant-Propos’ is only the debut EP of Gargantua, but already the band are showing ambition and scope with their progressive music. Taking a base of melodic death metal and adding folk, avant-garde and progressive influences to it is not something that many bands attempt, yet on this EP Gargantua do exactly that and pull it off pretty darn well. I’m excited to see where they end up; ‘Avant-Propos’ is an interesting and enjoyable calling card, showing a band full of promise for the future. Ones to watch I feel. ~ Nigel Holloway

Lychgate (UK) – An Antidote for the Glass Pill (Blood Music)

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To me, the term “avant-garde” when used in a metal context refers to a band that pushes familiar elements into a new and unexpected place. Lychgate’s second full length ‘An Antidote for the Glass Pill’ is a perfect example of this, as the London group takes familiar elements of black metal and doom and pushes off into uncharted territory. Utilizing the pipe organ as one of its most prominent instruments, the album explores a truly terrifying sound that doesn’t sound like anything else out there. The prominence of the organ gives a gothic, macabre feel that hints at the unknown monsters lurking off in the darkness, while Greg Chandler’s screams and shrieks are nightmare inducing. Once the initial wow factor of the organ wears off and you have a chance to explore the rest of the instrumentation, you’ll discover Lychgate to be a band that keeps you on your toes, experimenting with different tempos and progressing in a non-linear fashion. Their brand of “avant-garde” might not be quite as out there as some of the others on this list, but the experimentation results in one of the most haunting atmospheric pieces of metal from the last few years. ~ Chris Dahlberg

Pogavranjen (Croatia)- Jedva čekam da nikad ne umrem (Arachnophobia Records)

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Pogavranjen’s looser, free flowing take on black metal often feels like it owes a bit to Virus’ particular type of avant-garde experimentation, though the Croatian band has wandered off onto their own path with ‘Jedva čekam da nikad ne umrem’. There’s a looser, jazzier feel to the instrumentation, particularly when it comes to the way that the guitars and drums seem to twist and transform in an almost improvised manner over the course of each song. Over the course of six tracks, Pogavranjen touches upon a psychedelic, stream of consciousness type of black metal, and while the tonality is hardly as abrasive as one might associate with the genre the overall sound is just as bleak and nihilistic. At times it almost feels like a slower, sprawling take on black metal only seen through the eyes of someone on an acid trip. The vocal work of Ivan Eror enhances this, with his singing alternating between cleaner, calming ranges and distorted, gruffer pitches that come off sounding like an old storyteller reciting tales that may or may not have actually happened. At times bizarre, free-flowing, and bleak, ‘Jedva čekam da nikad ne umrem’ is an album that will take time to absorb but will be one you won’t soon forget. ~ Chris Dahlberg

Shaving The Werewolf (Norway) – The Pissing Link (Negative Vibe Records)

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Shaving the Werewolf is one of the strangest bands I have had the pleasure of listening to since I started writing reviews. They’re an experimental noise and hardcore band from Oslo, Norway. With great album titles like ‘Your Head is a Toilet,’ ‘You Say Tomato, I Say Fuck Off,’ and now ‘The Pissing Link’ featuring a drawing of a Yeti-mauled mountaineer clutching his severed penis; how could you not take an interest? The vocals and lyrics are totally raw and abrasive like Great American Ghost, but with an added bizarreness to the instrumentation and eclectic use of electronics. You need to hear it to believe it. ~ FlightOfIcarus

Todtgelichter (Germany) – Rooms (Supreme Chaos Records)

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Ohhh now this is the stuff! Todtgelichter play progressive black metal with all manner of quality accouterments. Think a cross between Enslaved and Arcturus, only with gorgeous, silken female clean vocals added on top. Oh, the singer can scream her heart out as well, and a great set of lungs she has too, but it’s the cleans that really do it for me. The music on this album is deliciously tasty, gradually unfurling into a space they create for themselves, luxuriously spreading out in progressive/post-blackened splendour. This really is mindbogglingly good, and I can’t recommend it enough. Listen and enjoy. ~ Nigel Holloway

Umbah (UK) – Cyborgial Schizms (Self Released)

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I had a lot of choices for which album to share on this particular list, but I had to give a shout-out to my man Cal Scott and his insane work as Umbah. This guy has been putting out music for many years as a strange bit of self-therapy. But as of this album, ‘Cyborgial Schizms’, he took avant-garde to exciting new levels. Given, this is a very challenging listen, but the story behind it is fascinating. The title is referencing the 50 or so robotic instruments he built himself. These instruments output random riffs and compositions which Cal later hand-picks to patchwork into full songs. Since inventing this new process, he has been dumping material onto bandcamp at an alarming rate like a boss. Want to one-up your elitist friends who think they know the weirdest stuff out there? This is your band. If you are looking for something that is still unusual, but a little more accessible, I recommend backtracking to ‘Enter The Dagobah Core’ or perhaps ‘Trilobeth.’ ~ FlightOfIcarus

Virus (Norway) – Memento Collider (Karisma Records)

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Experimental / avant-garde is what Norway’s Virus has essentially been doing since their creation, acting as a vehicle for Carl “Czral” Michael Eid to push further and further into uncharted territory. Though its origins lie with the avant-garde black metal madness of Ved Buens Ende, these days Virus can’t really be categorized as metal at all and its latest full length ‘Memento Collider’ is a perfect example. With a free-flowing sound that sometimes carries riffs across multiple songs, the six tracks on the album come together to form a hypnotic and mysterious soundscape that draws listeners in. The guitars hang over the sound with an airier quality, led forward by the methodical bass lines that give off a progressive rock meets post punk feel. It’s hard to pin down exactly all the genres the band is channeling here, with experimental rock being the easiest tag for those that don’t want to think too hard. But it’s Eid’s performance on vocals that once again makes Virus stand out, as his booming announcer like singing puts your attention squarely on these bizarre, cryptic lyrics that will probably take some time to get a feel for. It’s a natural progression for a band that has continued to refine a style all its own, and still just as alien. ~ Chris Dahlberg

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