Avant-garde metal as a subgenre nowadays is really devoid of meaning. Nothing more than an umbrella term to include all those bands that don’t fit neatly onto well-established shelves of “traditional” metal styles. In other words, it has become shorthand for “this is weird.” Rarely will you find a truly exciting and innovative metal band worthy of the “avant-garde” status. Frenchmen 6:33 (now at their third LP), sadly, are not the saviors of avant-metal that we need (and deserve).
In fact, there’s nothing avant-garde nor experimental about their music even though they do sound weird. My first reaction while listening to their new album, “Deadly Scenes,” was to go check the lineup and make sure that this was not a new project by Mike Patton. It’s appalling how close 6:33 come to sounding like a tribute band. On each song there are elements that are eerily reminiscent of Mr. Bungle, Faith No More, or Tomahawk. Just check out the intro to “The Walking Fed” and compare it to Tomahawk’s “Anonymous.” The vocals (above all, the vocals!), the riffs, the breaks, the stop-start rhythmic stunts, the forced tempo and mood changes… you’ve heard it all before. The band is either blissfully oblivious to these similarities or quite aware of them and standing firm about it on purpose. Truth be told, I have no clue which is the case. Take the opening “Hellalujah,” for example, an otherwise solid song that absolutely screams its inspirations in your face. It’s not subtle, no sir. And in those moments when it’s not Patton they are channeling? Well, then they start emulating Diablo Swing Orchestra (“Ego Fandango”), Sigh (“Black Widow”), or uneXpect (“Lazy Boy”). Everything is just so familiar and, eh, rehashed.
The familiarity of their approach doesn’t stop with the music. The lyrics and general theme that revolve around a bizarre take on the trope of the seven sins also seem unnaturally quirky and forced. Frank Zappa did it ages ago and Mr. Bungle did it with more style. For any new(ish) band, comparisons with noteworthy and great predecessors should be seen as a compliment, but this does not hold true when you’re dabbling with music that is supposed to be original, inventive, and challenging. All in all, these tunes makes me temporarily bipolar. On one hand, the way that these evidently extremely talented guys waste their potential on something that reads like a mere citation infuriates me; on the other, it’s a stupidly fun record for anyone willing to look beyond the fact that this is obviously just recreation, not innovation. It helps that 6:33 appear to have a knack of piling all sorts of genres and influences together, from jazz to pop, and making it sound relatively coherent. Still, their approach can get a bit overwhelming at times.
This is further exacerbated by the production which is, if we disregard the pretty bad dynamic compression, quite busy and excessively aggressive (again, think of uneXpect). Like I said before, the musicians are wildly skilful and there are some really impressive moments on these nine songs which will at least awe listeners that seek technical proficiency in music. For everyone else, tracks like “I’m a Nerd,” the heaviest track here, or “Last Bullet for a Gold Rattle” will surely provide moments of giddiness and joy. In some strange way, all of these missteps amount to some pretty amusing stuff, so, it’s not all doom & gloom.
I generally don’t like reviews that rely heavily on name-dropping and yet I seem to have just written one. In my defence, this release feels too much like a mashup or homage, thus making it nigh impossible to write about it in any other way. Putting that aside, I actually kind of dig this album. It’s too long, a bit bland in its songwriting, but wacky fun. Oh, and by the way, a banjo makes a short appearance! If that doesn’t sell you on this record, I don’t know what will.