I’m always skeptical when the term “avant-garde” is flung in the direction of a work of art. Declaring with any degree of certainty that an artistic creation surpasses the confines of the status quo is a fool’s errand. Time is the great leveler, and only on its scales can we weigh an artwork’s impact against the feather of the chattering masses. Dada, an anti-art corollary to the oppressive madness of WWI, upended the establishment and still to this day inspires action and reaction from viewer and participant alike. But this perspective is only possible when viewed through the rear-view mirror of history. So, when I received the promo for Selcouth’s debut album Heart is the Star of Chaos and saw it described by the label as “avant-garde,” my hackles raised immediately in response to such hubris. Maybe my cantankerous disposition is uncalled for. Maybe my fears are unfounded and I’m sitting on a musical revelation that will be spoken of in hushed tones in the years to come. Don’t hold your breath.

Putting aside my skepticism for a moment, some background on the band and the album is merited. While I’d hardly call them a supergroup, Selcouth are comprised of members pulled from (but not limited to) Smohalla, As Light Dies, Stagnant Waters and the entirety of Khanus. This makes Heart is the Star of Chaos a truly international release with collaborators from all corners of the globe. A piecemeal approach to constructing an album from slivers collected from a variety of contributors allows for a diversity of ideas and styles but also brings with it the danger of a lack of focus if a driving intent isn’t employed to bind things together. Sadly, this is an issue that pervades much of the album.

Take opening cut “Strange Before the Calm,” a free-form ramble that murmurs with female spoken word, strained male vocals (reminiscent of Arcturus but without the charm), off-kilter guitar and jazzy bass, all wrapped up in a carnival-like stream-of-consciousness haze. It’s pleasant, easy to digest and utterly free of consequence. Many of the tracks on Heart is the Star of Chaos follow the same refrain, doling out prog/jazz circus melodies that run the gamut from amusing to vexing while never managing to tie the disparate threads together in any meaningful way. “Gaia” initially impresses, starting off with a deliciously mixed bass line before moving to female vocals that mimic Björk so accurately that she could use it as a makeup mirror. But in time the song starts to drag its feet and by the end I found my attention had long left my body like a soul slipping away from the recently deceased.

I did glean pleasure from a couple of tracks. “Rusticus” judiciously balances its slick riffs and more lurid elements in a satisfying manner reminiscent of Solefald while the playful, upbeat nature of “Querencia” draws from the vaudevillian theatrics of Stolen Babies and Diablo Swing Orchestra, even throwing in a dazzling Middle-Eastern solo towards the end. On the subject of solos, Heart is the Star of Chaos occasionally unleashes a red-hot sizzler, a surprising contrast against the clown parade antics. I’m not sure if this the lone contribution from one of the many musicians employed on the album, or instead is a desperate cry from a guitarist burdened with generating zany nonsense. If it’s the latter, well, I don’t want to use the word “hostage” but if a grainy video emerged of said guitarist with the business end of a rifle pressed against his-or-her temple, haltingly decrying the evils of classical song composition, it wouldn’t surprise me.

Selcouth’s brand of eclecticism is not without its merits, offering a well-engineered album in Heart is the Star of Chaos that is capable of producing moments of genuine engagement. But these moments rarely reach a satisfying payoff, hinting at something greater but never making it to the summit. Selcouth are content to wave Chekhov’s gun but never manage to load a bullet in the chamber, let alone firing the damn thing. For an album that talks big about experimentation and anti-orthodoxy (you know, the embodiment of avant-garde) it’s disappointing to end up with music that musters little more than a well-meaning shrug.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: I, Voidhanger Records
Websites: selcouthband.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/selcouthconglomerate
Releases Worldwide: June 23rd, 2017

  • Drew Music

    A unicorn shitting microwaves in a stream of ethereal radiance as it traverses the cosmos, now that is timeless.

    • Thatguy

      And avant-garde.

  • WhamBamSam

    When I see an cover like that I always want to like the album, but know deep down that I won’t.

    • Nag Dammit

      Shark boob’s.

  • Alexandros

    There are interesting ideas here, but not enough imo to make a good whole. Too bad.

    On the plus side, now that we have the jazz-metal tag maybe we could start getting more of those types of albums? ;)

    • Thatguy

      Jazz/metal seems to usually display the worst of both worlds.

      The emperor has no clothes. This is pretty bad actually.

      • Nukenado

        Arktis. is pretty good jazz metal.

        • Thatguy

          I will check it out. I’m sceptical though.

        • Alexandros

          Do you mean Ihsahn’s album or there is a band named Arktis that I’m unaware of? My google-fu only directed me to a german prog rock group from the 70s and (another german) metalcore band…

          • Nukenado

            I mean Ihsahn’s latest.

          • Thatguy

            I missed your reply to Alexandros until just now. I do not think Arktis advances your case. I know that album well enough and I don’t think I’d call it jazz-metal, and I think it is one of Ihsahn’s weaker efforts.

          • Nukenado

            Hmm… Okay.

      • Alexandros

        I don’t know why you would say so though admittedly jazz metal is an ambiguous term. Where’s the line between prog metal, jazz metal and even jazz fusion anyway?

        I could name several good “jazz metal” bands: from Cynic, Exivious and Animals as Leaders (TRAM maybe?) to Thank you Scientist to Shining to Ihsahn’s latest works and even drop name Kayo dot while I’m at it.

        • Thatguy

          You are correct. All those bands are good to very good. I was feeling grumpy because I think this is an overblown pastiche and is the worst of both worlds.

        • Felchmeister777

          Kayo Dot, jazz metal?

          Yikes…that’s pushing it…

          From my experience the VAST majority of ‘jazz metal’ is soulless wank that all sounds the same…

  • Nukenado

    …I’m probably the only person who dislikes Dada.
    I feel like anti-art is something that is not, rather than being its own thing. Its merit lies on not being art, and I feel that that is just… Not worthy of being called art.

    But hey, this is coming from someone who can’t even sketch an apple, so take this with a grain of salt.

    • Thatguy

      The thing about Dada was that it was a situational response to the way things were at the time. That the urinal – etc etc – is still being celebrated misses the point entirely. It was ephemeral. The joke is on the critics and the galleries.

      • Nukenado

        Yeah, it needed context. I personally think that art should require a context to be enjoyed.

  • Dammage

    I hate seeing cool experimental ideas executed poorly, but along with symphonic metal and folk metal I almost always come away disappointed with new offerings in the genre. öOoOoOoOoOo is cool as fuck though

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Awesome cover! I would buy on the spot if I saw it on the store without even listening to it.

  • Felchmeister777

    Amazing how bland and tired so much of this ‘avant garde’ metal sounds. Quite ironic really…

    Whereas, as is implied in this review, more often than not these bands just sound like poor Arcturus clones…

    Saying that, one of the guys involved here created the Smohalla debut, which is one of the most interesting metal albums in recent years. Depressingly it may end up as a one-off because he seems intent to keep creating disposable ‘side project’ shit like this…

    • I agree with you on that Smohalla there fantastic material. I heard from Slo that a new Smohalla album is in the works but as his name suggests it’s coming slowly. Most of his effort nowadays is spent doing Retrosynth with Fixions, on this shit he only contributed with Keyboards to two of the tracks.