Avant-Garde Metal

Primary Stylistic Influences (Avant-Garde):
Stylistic Influences (Experimental):

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 Music 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 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.

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, and usually, listeners cannot particularly identify what makes a certain song sound awesome, especially when it sounds like a chaotic mash-up of different metal and/or non-metal subgenres made to sound like an orderly mess, when it is drenched in guitar effects/digital processing/orchestral elements, or, if a song is old enough, endlessly copied that it sounds like ''every other song'' out there. Some examples are probably made more awesome and difficult to listen to at the same time 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.
  • Crowning Music of Awesome: And too many examples to list.
  • 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 musicians, sometimes both, 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.)
    • This is basically the entire premise of the genre.
  • Fan Nickname: "Math metal", "Thinking man's metal", "Art metal", among many others.
  • 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, which may not exactly be "metal" in the conventional sense.
  • Lead Bassist: Loads and loads of Type A (the virtuoso type, common in avant-garde) and Type D (musical lead, common in experimental) examples.
  • 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. Yasuko Onuki of Melt-Banana and Courtney Laplante of Iwrestledabearonce are female examples.
  • 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: Fuck yes. This trope is so common among bands that it is more often than not an absolute requirement.
  • Postmodernism: Quite often the one concept that underpins all material classified under the genre, to the point where one would find it difficult to find anything in the genre that isn't made to be postmodern art. The trope is also one of the prime reasons why critics and fans either hold the genre in high regard or dismiss it as metal for the musically inept.
  • 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. For the Western scene, Faith No More for experimental metal in general, Meshuggah for djenty experimental, and System of a Down for modern experimental metal. Dir en grey, Sigh, Sound Horizon and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas are credited as these for the Eastern scene.
  • 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: Perhaps the only idea that can describe the entire genre in a nutshell, at least for the average metalhead.
  • Up to Eleven: Considering that the whole scene is all about pushing the limits of what can be interpreted musically as "metal", this trope is pretty much the rule.
  • 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 genre literally thrives in Japan, where some of the biggest and most recognizable acts (X Japan, Dir en grey, Sound Horizon, Sigh, etc.) are based.


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