The Best Avantgarde / Experimental Metal Album - Metal Storm Awards 2019





Öxxö Xööx have decided to take the umlaut all the way, having an album title completely made up of characters with umlauts, even if it's just one character. Don't even get us started on how many times we had to copy and paste it because MS code doesn't properly support it. As far as the music is concerned, it is not that far off from collective-mate Igorrr, who is also part of Öxxö Xööx, but is a lot more grounded in gothic doom, albeit plastered with electronic glitches, operatic vocals, and baroque elements. And with the electronics enjoying contributions from none other than Master Boot Record, you know you're in for a pretty wild ride.

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Caïna have never really been an orthodox band, and while there's certainly plenty of the black/post-metal sound of Caïna to be found on Gentle Illness, there hasn't been any record of theirs as unsettling and as harrowing as this one. The use of noise, the themes of despair, mental health, and suicide, and the unwelcoming production all make this one of the most difficult listens of the year. It's really not gentle at all.

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The culmination of Crowhurst's metal trilogy is rife with both star power in its lineup and all-killer-no-filler in its music. Not only seeing Crowhurst act as a full band instead of a one-man noise project, it also features contributions from main members of Caïna, Sol Invictus, Primitive Man, and Lycia, as well as Kurt Ballou behind production. In the very short run time that it has, III mixes some of Crowhurst's noise past with neofolk and sludgy black metal and massive-sounding drone enough not only to still maintain a sense of atmosphere, but also leave you wanting for more.

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Music can attain dream-like or nightmare-like qualities in a lot of different ways. Helium Horse Fly do so by playing something that is pretty close to jazzy prog rock/metal akin to Damnation-era Opeth or RIverside but twisting it into uncanny valley and adding some throbbing drone and hauntingly assertive vocals over it. It is the recurring nightmare from your childhood, where you want to look away but you are seduced into the danger. It is the constant dread before the reveal. Sometimes it explodes, sometimes it doesn't, and you never know when it will.

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Seemingly abandoning their past as a DSBM group, Romania's Katharos XIII reinvented themselves in 2019 as a jazzy dark ambient metal band with Palindrome. Hints of a heavier past remain, most notably with the occasional harsh rasping vocals, but beyond the distorted guitar chords, there are stretches of swinging percussion, soulful saxophone, and ominous ambiance, capped off by darkly charming female lead vocals. That the fusion of these somewhat disparate styles is so successfully pulled off by a group with the musical past of Katharos XIII is a testament to the adaptability and songwriting prowess of these musicians.

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You get in members of Gnaw Their Tongues, Wormlust, and Ævangelist, among others, you have them play black metal as if they were free jazz musicians, you take the analog tapes and leave them in an abandoned hospital for a while, and you have to make sure that all of this happens inside of a dream. You should pretty much get Obscuring Veil's Fleshvoid To Naught, which admittedly doesn't quite avoid every pitfall of supergroup albums, but manages to create such a weird-sounding album that one ought not to mind the excessive hype it may have gotten.

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The circus has come to town! To celebrate a decade of arduous work, Pensées Nocturnes present us with their sixth opus. Grand Guignol Orchestra is a musical journey dripping with honest and pure silliness, yet is also the most aggressive output by the French squad in quite a while. Black metal, jazz, blues, and who knows what other genres have been thrown to the burlesque mixer. The final result is bizarre, mad, yet perfectly balanced and composed. So if you are at least *this* crazy to get in: buy the ticket, and take the ride!

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Rainer Landfermann has lent his soul-petrifying vocals to only a handful of recordings over the years, and the only other full-length to feature his voice is already 24 years old (he has to be careful, because crops fail and small animals die in the vicinity of the studio when he records). With so little to judge from, there was apparently a lot that we never knew or suspected about his musical philosophy, as Mein Wort In Deiner Dunkelheit brings many surprises with it - there are, of course, violent excursions into blackened, doomy, deathly swarms of metallic noise, but also a significant piano and cello presence and some unanticipated brightness. Landfermann shows off his incredible instrumental chops as well, incorporating technicality into rawness (and vice versa) in unique ways. If you're reading this, Mr. Landfermann, please don't make us wait another 24 years for the next one.

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Ah yes, the Monty Python of the metal world that we all know and love return with their sixth full-length effort. Here the Meads have gone for a more epic, atmospheric, and medieval-sounding approach than usual, resulting in a sound that comes close to some sort of off-kilter, avant-garde folk metal. Perhaps a wee bit more accessible than some of their past releases, but still stamped with the band's trademark weirdness and tongue-in-cheek humor, Running Out Of Time Doing Nothing is another worthwhile addition to the Meads' discography that only further displays what makes these Englishmen so memorable and altogether unique.

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Given the pedigree of the members involved in Tronos - Shane Embury of Napalm Death on vocals and guitars, his Absolute Power bandmate Russ Russell doing the same plus synths, and Dirk Verbeuren of every other band on drums, plus some guest work from musicians including Voivod's Snake and Mastodon's Troy Sanders - you might have no idea what to expect, but that will probably be the case even after you've experienced the trippy sludge ball that is Celestial Mechanics. The guitars are loaded with ferocity, but the pickled vocals are just loaded - and when the band builds up to some dramatic drop, instead of murderous chaos, you're just as likely to get dreamy clouds of nasal cleans as an amped-up stoner breakdown. Much like a walk through an ancient labyrinth haunted by aliens, this proggy, slimy, grindy album blends elements that logically should not go together but turns out a pretty entertaining product nonetheless.

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