Music can be weird.
Weird can be awesome.
Unfortunately, weird music is often shunned — it is often pushed away into the shadows. The creative freedom of embracing “weird” is obvious, yet in mainstream music it simply doesn’t have much of a place.
This article celebrates that creative freedom. It’s about the experimental and the weird.
I think that there’s something to that weirdness. I think embracing it — even just long enough to make it through a single song — can be productive. Dissonance can be creative fuel. It can be like a drug, opening up connections and igniting areas of our brain that have gone previously unnoticed.
The following albums haven’t been picked because I love them. No — they’ve been picked because they move me in some way, even if it is weird and uncomfortable. None of these listens are “easy,” and most are incredibly alienating.
But please. Give them a try. See what they make you think.
Sunn O))) – Monoliths & Dimensions
Sunn O))) is classified as “drone” metal. That, um, should give you a good idea of what you’re about to hear.
Sunn O)))’s discography is filled with lengthy tracks composed of nothing more than the sound of down-tuned guitars played at earthquake-inducing frequencies. Of course, these tracks are layered over a bunch of other down-tuned guitars, some ambient noise… and well, the result is mystifying.
When I first listened to Sunn O))), I laughed. How is this music? Who could listen to this? I didn’t make it fifteen seconds before turning it off. A few months later my playlist happened to randomly play one of their tracks, and I decided to begrudgingly listen through it (mainly because I was too lazy to hit next).
I found myself staring out the window. At nothing. I found my thoughts gone.
Hungarian chanting echoed in my head. Nothing else.
One of Sunn O)))’s albums is called “Void.” Honestly, I can’t think of a better word to describe their music. Void metal, really. Listening to their music is like staring into a dark, dark place that swallows up your energy, your thoughts, and just about everything that makes you, you. It isn’t the sort of thing you turn on for pleasure — at least not the same musical pleasure you get from listening to, well, normal music. It’s the sort of thing you turn on because you want to go somewhere that you just can’t go without it.
But Aus Nord is a mix of black metal and industrial. It is coated in mysticism, but it’s also uniquely stripped of it. It’s completely painful to listen to at times — nothing but walls of dissonance and discord — yet, moments of beauty manage to sneak in, breaking up those passages.
A thousand black metal bands could fit in this space, but Blut Aus Nord just… well, they fit more than most.
For all its seething rage, black metal tends to feel synthetic. The layers of corpsepaint and satanism all seem to go nowhere. It’s all for image. Blut Aus Nord rebels against that. There is no shouting at society here, no devotion to angsty teenage causes. Everything is cloaked. Everything is hidden.
To uncover what’s beneath is painful.
Is it worth it? I’m not quite sure. I sure as hell haven’t yet.
Storm Corrosion is a winding, 48-minute journey through a strange musical idea that is situated somewhere between progressive rock, psychedelia, and ambient/drone music. Arguably, it even has some subtle metal elements, although finding them (and pointing them out) would be a difficult task.
Storm Corrosion is technically “lighter” than many other pieces on this list. Yet, despite this it manages to create an atmosphere that is just as dark. If Sunn O))) or Blut Aus Nord are like being punched in the nose, Storm Corrosion is like a thread moving subtly against your skin. No, you won’t feel the impact quite as soon, but you’re sure it is there.
While there are cohesive ideas at play, the album tends to wander quite a bit. Instruments and sounds pop up on a track only to be completely forgotten — perhaps their melody remembered later, but in a ever-so-slightly-dissonant way. Of course, it all feels strangely in place. This isn’t random thoughtless generation. It’s intentional, and that’s clear — but it isn’t obvious why, and that’s what makes it so interesting.
Perhaps the best part is the fact that this album was essentially created by two minds moving past each other. While all albums are like that in a way, this one specifically features two powerful minds (Mikael Akerfeldt and Steven Wilson) coming together — briefly — to form an album. Opeth, on their album sleeves, refers to their albums as “observances,” and I feel that label is perfect here, too. This isn’t really an album, no — it’s a musical observance. It’s a series of ideas and thoughts that could only come together in that specific place.
While I maintain a certain distance from most album’s on this list, Storm Corrosion sticks close to my heart — for that reason among many.
Hexvessel is, strangely enough, the most normal band on this list. Their tracks have form, and for the most part they aren’t all that dissonant (well, okay, they have dissonance — but at least it is melodic dissonance).
Depending on who you’re talking to, Hexvessel either falls into “occult rock” or “neo-psychedelic folk.” I’m not really sure, to be honest, and I don’t think it matters much at all, especially when you consider how unique their sound is.
Hexvessel essentially plays a sort of folksy, creepy music that is filled with fairly straight-forward guitar sections that twist and turn, morphing into something else entirely. Atmospheric elements pour in as the songs tumble on, organs, bells, haunting voices — you name it. As can be expected, heavily “spiritual” lyrics are layered on everything. Oh, and tritones are pretty much everywhere once you get to the meat of most the songs.
Their inclusion on this list might seem strange at first, especially by the above description. Where does this band fit in here?
The secret lies in the combination of all the elements: it is clear that this is not the work of a group of guys interested in creeping you out. It’s the work of a group of guys who believe their music has a higher purpose. And that is chilling, in the strangest way.
Just like the other artists, this isn’t music that can be idly listened to. You’ve got to dig at it — you’ve got to really listen in to get the full experience.
But if you do… well, you get to see why some people refer to it as “psychedelic” folk.