Norwegian band Atrox are classified as "Avante-garde". This is defined as "innovative and experiemental" - in other words, a wee bit weird. They formed in 1988, using the name Suffocation, but changed that when they realised there were other bands with the same name. In the beginning they were death metal, but by this album (their 4th) they had inserted enough other interesting elements to give them the above classification.
Now, how to describe the album? Well, it is a cardboard digipack, with booklet inserted into a pocket. The cover is a darkly surreal piece of art painted by the vocalist herself, Monika Edvardsen. Somewhat Bosch-esque, it depicts numerous deformed and distorted characters assembled in rows and staring at the viewer - some are cute, others downright creepy - a round-headed, three-eyed pyjama clad child clutches a red toy rabbit; teo horse-headed men bear a pole, from which hangs two pairs of legs, connected at the waist; little imps and goblins cavort in surreal and grotesque glory. It is all rather beautiful. On the back of the case are depicted various caricatures of the band - Afrox, Hatrox, Ratrox, Flatrox, Batrox, Fatrox, whilst a little lizard in spectacles points out his favourite. Crazy, crazy stuff! Inside the booklet, the lyrics are printed in a scrawled font only slightly darker than the background, making them downright undecipherable.
We rage into the steam-rolling, heavy dealing that is "Methods of Survival" with its loud, determined bass and husky, knife-edged vocals, which soar into a softer swoop for the chorus. Their sound has been described as similar to Meshuggah, a band that I am not familar with. About halfway through it shifts from the immense thunderous wall of power into something distinctly progressive in sound, with screeching vocals and a rhythm that reminds me rather of Ritual, but with a distinctly heavier backing.
"Flesh City" starts similarly heavy, with repetitive thrash and female and male vocals twisting and twining around each other. The rhythms jerk and tug, the drum and bass fading so the guitar can take over, then charging back in. Faster, faster. Then suddenly, almost a jazz-vibe as Monika's husky vocals come in. Chugging, charging rhythms, distortion. The illustration accompanying the lyrics to this piece are frankly somewhat disturbing - although I do like the witch-pig-on-a-broomstick (wearing a gas mask).
Twiddly rhythms, over hand-clap drumming and Monika's low vocals usher on a "Heartquake" which contains lyrics about "little death". I'm not really much good at any genre excepting metal, but I suspect this may have some lounge/jazz sound to it. Or potentially cabaret. I can almost imagine her lying on a piano, kicking her feet in the air and tracing shapes in the air with a feather or some other sort of long and slender device.
"How long to experience a heartquake, but oh so afraid it will end with a heartbreak..."
We are whipped and whirled into the maelstrom of "Burning Bridges", the lyrics of which (for some reason) feature first in the booklet. Raw-edged, filled with tension and drama. Slower, gentler moments interplay with the aggressive; tidy guitar rhythms intercepting the raucous. Then into tiddly, organic rhythms of creeping deceit and lurking imps in the shadows, laughing. Theatrical. A swarm of hornets.
Dramatic, slow; "This Vigil" brings with it an air of the uncanny. Chugging rhythms, interspersed with the croon of the synthesizers (or the moog?) which add an otherworldly, demented air to the wailing vocals. Dirge like bass-line, banshee howls.
Sampling and a springy rhythm usher us into "Tentacles". Organic-sounding guitars, dropping into heavier depths and soaring with the spectral voice of the synthesizer. Tangled and demented. Grabbing, twisting turmoil. Disconcerting, disjointed, sampling and a faintly eerie sense.
"Second Hand Traumas" begins with a more mainstream approach, fast, competent guitar fingering and a mighty bass-line. Vocals with a hint of the shrill. Then more into the complicated, switching tempo and chaotica controlled.
Solid, determined, "Pre-Sense" sets Monika's voice rising into a shrill determination above a more classically metal sound. Going into twiddliness, finding a pattern, then abruptly stopping, jerking rhythms, disconcerting. She really does reach some surprising pitches. Towards the end we draw to a conclusion. Or not. Stop... start... stop... pause... start. The eerie and disjointed nature is messing with me, and I'm not sure I can listen to it through to its eventual conclusion.
Like Swedish band Ritual, there is something about the abrupt jerkiness of the rhythms and the switching tempos that makes me feel ever-so-slightly queasy, like it is messing a little with my inner ear equilibrium.
Strange and beautiful, like the art, the playful with a darker edge, demented and quirky. I can see why my brother decided to give me this. It comes to me in tones of sepia, with shadows and darting light and little creatures that lurk in the shadows and reach out to pluck at your senses with spider-like fingers.
Yes, definitely "Avantgarde" is the best definition.
Rating = 7.5/10