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The Best Avantgarde / Experimental Metal Album - Metal Storm Awards 2023





A new band has erupted from the Land of Ice, offering an unnerving, psychedelic atmosphere with captivating, experimental melodies and agony-stricken vocals. Altari’s Kröflueldar dabbles in gothic, doomy, post-, and black metal styles, meshing these influences together into a unique and highly enjoyable approach. Demonically vicious vocals—palpable with feelings of desperation and sadness—are juxtaposed with the mesmerizing amalgamation of guitar styles that range from crunchy, stoner-like grooves and atmospheric tremolo-picking to eerie, contemplative melodies. All of these facets work together to entrance the listener with enthralling soundscapes and soothing ambience.

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Years after SubRosa disbanded, the concept of chamber metal seems to be making a comeback, following strong debuts from first Ode And Elegy and now Anareta. The New Orleans sextet place stirring strings at the heart of their compositions, using the metal instrumentation to shape the background of compositions, and lean towards a doominess reminiscent of SubRosa, but with a visceral harshness arising from both the use of extreme vocals and also a grounded production style. With subtle and intelligent layering of instruments and vocals (which also contrast shrieks with angelic chorals), Anareta have established a distinctive and compelling sound for themselves, one that is displayed to great effect on Fear Not.

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Black Medium Current’s cover art vaguely recalls The Dark Side Of The Moon and its music sounds somewhat as if Pink Floyd played atmospheric black metal. The sound of this album is immaculate. Its progressive structure and floating feeling, where one song bleeds into the next, both secure a flow that most albums don’t even come close to achieving. Vicotnik's vocals are infectiously quirky, while the electronics give that familiar avant-garde touch. The piano sounds as demented as it has ever been. So, is this album a surprise? Of course not. Dødheimsgard] have proved time and time again that they are capable of mind-bending music. Black Medium Current is both mind-bending and earwormingly accessible, as well as an excellent entry point for the uninitiated.

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One of Poland’s boldest metal exports continue their genre-fluid musical exploration on album number four, Total, which serves as a total summation of their journey to date. The post-black leanings of their debut remain a underlying facet of their sound, but Total’s avantgarde spanning of psychedelic, progressive, blackened styles defies classification, putting them within the same postcode as other pioneers such as Oranssi Pazuzu. Highlights of Total are its limited but effective use of synths and the unexpectedly evocative passages, but as a whole, this album is meticulously crafted and riveting in its unpredictability and innovation.

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Microtonality: to most of us Occidental folk, it's the sound of everything being slightly out of tune and yet ineffably hypnotic. Incidentally, that is also the sound of the Czech language, which is the other unconventional technique that Kostnatěníd] packs into its thoroughly disorienting debut. Turns out Czech black metal is incredibly bizarre even when it comes from Minneapolis, because it's not just that microtonal mayhem that throws Úpal off the beaten track: it's the intrusion of Slavic folk (perhaps to be expected) and African folk (less expected), pulling the album into an intercontinental swarm of music played upside-down; it's the woozy melting sensation of psychedelic black metal melded to the discordant abandon of what might be perceived as noise punk if it weren't so texturally complex. It seems tautological to praise an album for being original when we have classed it as avant-garde and perhaps a little contradictory given the presence of folk music, which is somewhat at loggerheads with the concept of originality (and that is of course not a criticism), but just a few minutes of Úpal will show you something you've never heard before: you might think you know where this is going, but you never do.

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They say that a thousand nightmares on a thousand typewriters will eventually write this album. Muyubyosha, or Sleepwalker, or 夢遊病者[/band], whatever your preferred nomenclature/orthography, has become a fixture in this category, and it's because their short but infinite waterfalls of incoherent sound are actually a form of aural parasite that has taken control of our sensory perception. Picture whatever discordant, atonal, messy, and structureless offshoot of black metal or sludge or noise rock or free jazz that you like, and then picture another two or three of those, and then layer them over top of each other, then cry, then vanish into a puff of smoke, then spend eternity falling through space. You can catch snippets of melody - gnarly guitar riffs, thumping bass lines - but they're not here to hold your hand. They're just here to exist in the spectral slaughter and mirror your familiar associations with music in a disturbing and wicked form. This is the soundtrack to uncanny valley.

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Balkan post-metal bands turning avant-garde seemed to be all the rage this year (it happened twice), and Bulgaria's TDK already had some The Mars Volta-ish leanings in their post-hardcore tinges on earlier stuff, but Nemesta sees them pushing further into both jazz and avant-prog. The jazz here is a bit less chaotic than the kind that bands who go into avant-garde make it to be, with the saxophone and the accordion acting like pretty well-integrated parts of the rowdy sound. The spastic and intricate and mind-boggling instrumentation can still be quite grounded, akin to the album giving you a small little crutch you can use to get to enjoy how wild it is without falling over, but it's even more spastic in the vocal performance field, with Nikola Nikolov having a very specific inflexion that reek of a detached irony and a righteous indignation.

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Like a cafe scene in an Eastern European surrealist noir, like a reckoning with the heavens in a wave of desert madness, like lying underneath an alien spaceship as it prepares to crush you in its landing, so waltz in The Canyon Observer, a Slovenian quintet with a hotline to the part of the brain that appreciates things before it understands them. When John Zorn many years ago became the next man to discover that actually you can just do whatever the hell you want in music and nobody can stop you, not too many artists followed in his steps right away, but we've been blessed in recent years with a fair number of bands ripping heavy metal apart to stuff it full of free jazz and hideous noise (redundant as that may sound). The Canyon Observer make mincemeat out of whatever kind of sludgy post-metal framework they were supposed to be operating within and dance madly to strings and saxophone as if they were trying to invent the tango by recording from underneath a set of tank treads. Figura is pulverizing chaos, but not in your typically brutal way - in a classical, jazzy, and totally bizarre way.

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Look, if you even clicked to check out this category, you know who Thy Catafalque is. They've been nominated with every album they've released since 2011 and most of them won this category, and even the ones that didn't got second place. Their name has been a guarantee of quality for such a long time that it goes almost head-to-head with the fact that this is the one category that should stand at the fringes of metal and spearhead the experimentation that's possible. But this is Thy Catafalque. Even with their shortest and most aggressive album in a long time, one that takes cues from their very early works, they still manage to sound uniquely like themselves and to also push the boundaries of how that heaviness gets integrated within their sound, coming full circle by sounding more experimental by being at their most straightforward.

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Writhing Tomb Amongst The Stars is an album that leaves no listener unchanged. The instrumentation and top-notch production create a cavernous, suffocating experience that makes the listener feel trapped and defeated. The vocals perfectly capture the deranged sounds of a tortured man, offering a splendid mix of agonizing wails, lengthy screeches, bestial squeals, thunderous growls, and bone-chilling whispers. With its chaotic experimentation and nightmarish soundscapes, the album seems itself a horrifically deformed mutation of what we would ordinarily call music. Thus, Venomous Echoes have created some of the most hostile metal of the year that still simultaneously manages to remain thoroughly captivating.

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