I would say that I have heard quite a varied spectrum of metal in my life — metal that is rather simple and unsurprising and metal that challenges the established structures and limitations of the genre. I’ve heard many bands that call themselves “avant-garde” but don’t really seem to do a lot to actually be avant-garde, i.e. trying out new things that have not been done before and eventually being ahead of their peers. I honestly don’t expect to be surprised anymore when I see the tag “avant-garde” in front of a band’s genre description, but sometimes I’m genuinely surprised anyways. Six-piece experimental metal outfit Harmony in Grotesque from Krasnoyarsk, Russia, managed to surprise me. With their third full length record, this band, formed in 1998, shows that there is still a lot of space for experimentation within the confines of what we call metal.
Noumenon feels like a descent into madness, the soundtrack to a mind falling apart. The album takes you on a journey through the deepest and darkest corners of the human mind and in the end leaves you behind asking yourself what the heck you just experienced.
With a playing time of 61 minutes, Noumenon has a lot to offer. Unfortunately, the first track “Neolithic” isn’t exactly what I would call a great introduction. While the instrumental side of the track is actually pretty darn good, the vocals include weird guttural cleans that seem to be out of tune sometimes. I don’t know if that’s intentional — it’s avant-garde metal after all — but it surely doesn’t sound all too pleasing. Fortunately, that doesn’t become a recurring feature of this album’s sound.
After the first track (which lasts 11 minutes!), things finally get better and really interesting. From the groovy and heavy, thrash-infused “Infected” on, the album becomes more or less unpredictable. Taking influences from multiple metal subgenres such as funeral doom, death, thrash, progressive and black metal, as well as elements from non-metal genres such as free jazz, dark folk, and post-rock, Noumenon is packed with amazing compositions, unforeseen twists and moments of utter madness, seemlessly bound together by smooth transitions and a coherent theme and tone.
While some songs, like the fittingly titled death/funeral doom metal track “The Funeral Song,” are rather straightforward in their approach to certain subgenres or styles, others are not easily digested and don’t fit into any traditional categories. Death and doom metal are the main influence for most of the songs, but every piece has a very unique sound and identity to it — sometimes stepping onto more melodic ground, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but always exciting and interesting to listen to. The song “Wind-up Bird” is a great example of how different moods and styles are combined with unconventional structures to create one coherent piece of music that defies categorization without sounding ill-conceived.
What makes Noumenon a great album is that it doesn’t sound like the band tried to include as many musical influences and elements as possible just for the heck of it but actually had an idea of what they wanted to express with the album and chose the elements to fit that concept. Since nothing feels misplaced or unfitting (except for the weird vocals on track one), everything contributes to the overall atmosphere of madness and darkness the album radiates.
Through the seven tracks it contains, the album gets darker and darker, until the frightening, 10-minute-long final track “Painted by Pain,” featuring saxophonist Derek Brown, ends it all with a completely chaotic and incredibly dark outro that will make you doubt your own sanity. I have not heard anything quite like that before: a truly horrifying and unexpected, yet completely logical conclusion to the album. I won’t embed that song here, because it really should be experienced at the end of the whole album, so if you wanna hear it, you know what to do.
The bottom line is, after a rather clumsy introduction track, this album is a fantastic and exciting work that truly deserves the tag “experimental” and doesn’t fit into traditional genre categories. If you want to hear something fresh and interesting, yet inherently “metal,” you should check this album out as soon as you can.
Noumenon was self-released by the band on April 30th and can be streamed and purchased from the band’s Bandcamp page.
Check out the band’s Facebook page as well!