Avant-garde metal, also called "art metal" or "avant-metal", is a subgenre of Heavy Metal
defined by the liberal use of innovative, avant-garde elements such as unconventional instruments, song structures and playing styles. It evolved out of Progressive Metal
with influences from jazz fusion, classical and extreme metal, and is primarily characterized by extreme musical virtuosity, a near-abandonment of heavy metal standards and a highly polished, technical sound. Avant-garde artists often seek to create an unusual, highly varied sound, in the same vein as most Progressive Metal
artists. The two genres often overlap and may sound confusing to some listeners, but the main difference is that avant-garde metal artists usually take an additional step beyond and strive to push the boundaries of what's musically possible in heavy metal.
Often listed as a sister genre to avant-garde metal is the aptly-named "experimental metal" subgenre, which refers to a subgenre of metal, more specifically a direct offshoot of extreme metal that focuses on creating a bizarre, abstract sound through large-scale experimentation, the use of bizarre, nonstandard sounds, extended playing and vocal techniques, varying degrees of musical manipulation, and the infusion of sounds from different and disparate musical genres aside from metal, akin to Alternative Metal
and Nu Metal
. Some metalheads describe experimental metal as basically everything that was good about Nu Metal
taken Up to Eleven
, and in fact, this is true for most experimental metal bands.
As with Alternative Metal
and Nu Metal
, avant-garde metal and experimental metal are often used interchangeably, and like the former two genres, metalheads will often argue that avant-garde and experimental are the same thing, but in recent years, a distinction between avant-garde and experimental has arisen, with "avant-garde" being more about musical innovation while "experimental" being more about Genre-Busting
. Both subsets, however, remain very loosely defined
, as bands that fall into either one or both genres also overlap considerably with other related genres such as progressive or alternative metal.
A partial list of bands and artists considered as or frequently associated with avant-garde metal and/or experimental metal include the following:
The avant-garde and experimental metal subgenres provide examples of the following tropes:
- All Drummers Are Animals: Subverted - the scene is home to some of the best drummers in metal, most of which possess monstrous stamina, but they really know their thing as opposed to the "big, dumb drummer" stereotype. Good examples include Matt Halpern (Periphery), Van Williams (Nevermore) and drum virtuosos Tomas Haake (Meshuggah) and Yoshiki Hayashi (X Japan)
- Awesomeness by Analysis: Appreciating Avant-garde/experimental metal can be highly difficult, even more so when artists deliberately encrypt thought-stimulating ideas into the music itself. Good examples of the application of this trope would be the Fibonacci sequence in "Lateralus" by Tool and many a Meshuggah song.note
- Crazy Awesome: Despite bordering on True Art Is Incomprehensible, avant-garde and experimental metal bands are generally praised by metal fans and professional critics.
- Dead Unicorn Trope: The definition of avant-garde metal (and to an extent, experimental metal) is frequently a matter of debate. Some metal fans argue that avant-garde metal isn't a standalone genre, because many bands and artists associated with the label also fall under Progressive Metal, Alternative Metal, mathcore and similar genres, but its questionable status as a genre is primarily due to the existence of a certain subset of metal...
- Doing It for the Art. Many of these bands feature very educated or technically skilled or both musicians with a strong artistic grounding at least for some members. Yoshiki Hayashi of X Japan is a very good example of this - he's a modern classical musician familiar with actual classical music (despite what is on his releases), and often incorporates this into his rock music. (which sometimes makes it seem odd to people unfamiliar with the idea - his On The Verge of Destruction drum solo for example, is often derided by people that don't realize the entire thing was a Rachmaninoff piece converted to drums.)
- Ensemble Darkhorse: Some underrated avant-garde and experimental metal bands have achieved cult popularity despite having little to moderate mainstream success. Good examples include Meshuggah, Enter Shikari, Deftones and the general Western reception to the Japanese bands such as Boris, Dir En Grey, and X Japan.
- Genre-Busting/Genre Roulette: Experimental metal, and to some extent, avant-garde metal draws influence from a very wide range of musical styles. Bands and artists who fall under the label also tend to produce material showcasing different styles of music.
- Lead Bassist: Loads and loads of Type A (the virtuoso type, common in avant-garde) and Type D (musical lead, common in experimental) examples.
- Love It or Hate It: Either you love avant-garde/experimental metal for its musical craziness and unusual approach to metal, or hate it for being highly pretentious, over-the-top metal made by artists who are doing it wrong.
- Man of a Thousand Voices: Most examples of this trope in metal fall under the avant-garde metal umbrella. Some of the most notable include Mike Patton, Kyo of Dir En Grey, Devin Townsend, Roughton Reynolds of Enter Shikari, Serj Tankian of System of a Down, Julien Truchan of Benighted, Travis Ryan of Cattle Decapitation and Jonathan Davis of Korn. Toshi was an early example with his ability to combine Melismatic Vocals and Metal Scream.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Both avant-garde and experimental metal span the whole scale, with experimental metal bands more likely to display extreme variance in hardness. Most bands tend to average at around 6-8, with some of the more extreme bands more likely to reach high hardness levels.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: Avant-garde metal is often described as a fusion of Alternative Metal and Progressive Metal while the core sound of experimental metal is best described as a fusion of Nu Metal and extreme metal taken Up to Eleven.
- The Scrappy: Djent, if you consider it to be part of the genres under the avant-garde metal umbrella. In recent years it has received a treatment similar to Nu Metal and dubstep in that it is seen as excessively formulaic, musically simple and nearly devoid of any actual progression. While this is true for most djent bands, there are some bands from the genre that are generally respected.
- Spiritual Successor: Avant-garde metal is this to early Progressive Metal while experimental is this to Alternative Metal.
- Trope Codifier: Therion for avant-garde metal in general and Enter Shikari for modern avant-garde. Faith No More for experimental metal in general, Meshuggah for djenty experimental, and System of a Down for modern experimental metal.
- Trope Maker: Either Voivod or Celtic Frost, for avant-garde (though the latter is usually seen as the Ur Example). The origins of experimental metal are a little less definite, though Meshuggah, Korn and Mr Bungle are arguably safe bets.
- True Art Is Incomprehensible
- Ur Example: Either Celtic Frost or Atheist for the West, and X Japan for the Japanese emergence of it. Elements of what has now become avant-garde metal can be traced to bands such as Dream Theater, Sieges Even and King Crimson.
- Widget Series: The whole subgenre is this, with the Eastern acts more likely to play this trope straight.