Take Five: A Weekly Jazz Sampler

Excuse Me, Sir, You Have Some Jazz In Your Metal

The Spanish doom metal band Orthodox forgoes the distorted low-end for clustered piano chords. i

The Spanish doom metal band Orthodox forgoes the distorted low-end for clustered piano chords. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the artist
The Spanish doom metal band Orthodox forgoes the distorted low-end for clustered piano chords.

The Spanish doom metal band Orthodox forgoes the distorted low-end for clustered piano chords.

Courtesy of the artist

Earlier today, NPR Music published one of my pieces for Take Five, our weekly jazz feature, called Blast Beat Improv: Metallic Free Jazz. I've come to subtitle it "Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love Bill Laswell"; the beret-ed bassist and producer is worth his own essay (seriously), in part because he spearheaded a lot of metal-influenced free jazz. (Aka grind-jazz, acoustic grind, death jazz or free death.) It's not swing for the faint of heart.

On the flip side, jazz (free and otherwise) has had a large influence on metal. Often, musicians with jazz backgrounds start thrash and death metal bands, using their knowledge of chord progressions and polyrhythms to inform brutal compositions.

There are countless other examples — too many to list — but I do want to know your favorite jazz-influenced metal bands, especially ones I may not have heard.

Excuse Me, Sir, You Have Some Jazz In Your Metal

Cover for Sentencia

Orthodox

  • Song: Ascension
  • From: Sentencia

These Sevilla, Spain doomsters started as a Sunn O))) worship band, pounding on mega-low B chords at 16 beats per minute. It was all well and good for what it was, even if it wasn't particularly original drone-doom metal. Then upon Orthodox's second album, Amanecer en Puerta Oscura, the band started to incorporate avant-jazz flourishes of clarinet, horn and upright bass. It was interesting at its best — it likely blew some stoners' minds — but wasn't fully formed. Enter Sentencia, which loses the low-end distortion in favor of clustered chords from the piano. The heaviness comes not from the immediate sound, but from the looming gravitas. It's fitting (if a bit misleading) that Sentencia's 26-minute track is called "Ascension" (ring any bells?): the composition leans heavily on abstract upright bass bowing, theatrical vocals and, as showcased in the excerpt below, overblown clarinet and keys beaten into submission.

Sentenica is available from The Stone Circle.

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Song
Ascension
Album
Sentencia
Artist
Orthodox
Label
Alone/TSC
Released
2009

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Cover for Man Closing Up

Ehnahre

  • Song: Part I
  • From: Man Closing Up

Whether serious or gimmicky, metal has a long-standing relationship with the devil. Appropriately, Ehnahre bills itself as "Satan Jazz." Featuring former members of the avant-metal band Kayo Dot, there's nothing resembling swing here, but there is some of the darkest free improvisation I've ever heard. Extreme doom fans might compare Ehnahre's angular wretchedness to Khanate, but the Boston quartet is also clearly invested in dragging misery through metal-based abstraction. It's caustic, ugly, gurgling, putrid filth that wanders a post-apocalyptic landscape. (Oh, that's a good thing, by the way.)

For more information, visit Ehnahre's website.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Part I
Album
Man Closing Up
Artist
Ehnahre
Label
Sound Devastation
Released
2008

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Bohren & der Club of Gore

  • Song: Midnight Black Earth
  • From: Black Earth

I still can't bring myself to watch the super-creepy Twin Peaks, but if there's one thing I can appreciate about David Lynch's beautiful nightmares committed to screen, it's the noir-lounge soundtracks. Germany's Bohren & Der Club of Gore occupies that same kind of space, but drags quietly-swept brushes and a lonely Fender Rhodes through utter darkness and somber pain.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Midnight Black Earth
Album
Black Earth
Artist
Bohren & der Club of Gore
Label
Wonder Records
Released
2004

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Cynic

  • Song: Space for This
  • From: Traced in Air

In the early '90s, the Los Angeles-based Cynic was often compared to jazz-fueled death metal band Atheist. But Cynic was always a bit stranger and more ethereal. Last year the band unexpectedly reunited to release Traced in Air, making its ties to death metal even less so. The band has ditched riffs almost completely for melodious guitar lines, yet there's still a heaviness to Cynic's complex jazz progressions that reaches outward to '70s fusion.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Space for This
Album
Traced in Air
Artist
Cynic
Label
Candlelight Records
Released
2008

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Mr. Bungle

  • Song: My Ass Is on Fire
  • From: Mr. Bungle

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Mike Patton in a list about jazz-influenced metal. He's made a career of conflating metal, jazz, funk, hip-hop, noise and just about everything else in bands like Faith No More, Fantomas and Tomahawk. He's also collaborated with John Zorn and served as one-time vocalist for The Dillinger Escape Plan. But out of all of his projects, Mr. Bungle was by far the most uncompromising. Albums like Disco Volante were Zappa-like mutants of sound, fueled by Patton's incredibly diverse and frequently avant-scat vocals.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
My Ass Is on Fire
Album
Mr. Bungle
Artist
Mr. Bungle
Label
Sony Music Distribution
Released
1991

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