I remember when I was a kid in a Los Angeles suburb back in the day that that you had the metal dudes on one side of the musical fence and the prog rockers on the other side. Being a dedicated prog rock fan and detesting the low-brow machismo so common to the average hesher at my school, I was shocked at first to find out that pioneering bands like Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Queensryche and some lesser known bands like Psychotic Waltz, Germany’s Sieges Even and the incredible tech metal pioneers from Texas, Watchtower actually had the nerve to combine the two formerly disparate genres. Cut to much later and we now have all kinds of mind-blowing combinations of metal with every imaginable form of music, popular or otherwise. For a lot of musicians metal isn’t even a style as much as a texture to add to their music and I’m feel so damn lucky that I now get to hear my new favorite musical hybrid – jazz metal!
I know a lot of casual fans are shaking their heads at the thought of this but think about it, since the advent of jazz fusion, there have always been adventurous rock musicians collaborating with jazz greats. If Jimi hadn’t died so damn young we might have been able to witness the much discussed collaboration of Hendrix and Miles Davis. Jazz Metal is, to my mind, actually leading the way in combining the power and heaviness of metal with the improvisation and complexity of the best of jazz and jazz fusion (formerly called jazz/rock fusion) and the best of the bunch could very well be Germany’s amazing, sophisticated power trio, Counter-World Experience who have been doing their thing since 2001 and have released five albums including the brand-new, groundbreaking “Music For Kings.”
The band describe themselves as a hybrid of “Meshuggah-style grooves with Pat Metheny-like textures and mixes them with electronic sound fragments to create a sound that is, above all, defined by guitar work in the best traditions of Dream Theater” and that’s a decent description of their sound but it doesn’t go far enough especially with this band’s originality. When you hear these guys you just know it’s this band. Formidable doesn’t begin to describe the sound of this three piece of guitarist Benjamin Schwenen, bassist Sebastian Hoffman and drummer Thorsten Harnitz. These guys can do it all. from powerful epics, metal-infused fusion workouts, beautiful ballads and at times a highly intelligent and often spiritual stateliness that shows a level of depth and sophistication that is very, very rare these days.
You might think I’m exaggerating how good this band is, but I’m not. Just listen to the beginning of Amygdala off their 2006 release with those intense chords and wonderful melody. Absolutely no vocals are ever needed with this band. Now, three years after Counter-World released “Metronomicon” we have “Music For Kings”, an album dedicated to famous monarchs from ancient times including Gilgamesh, David, Charlemagne and Beowulf. The album begins with a wonderful church organ piece elucidating the stateliness of the world about to unfold and then goes right into “Trinity”, with the organ playing off some great metal guitar chords before completely rockin’ out – Counter-World style! Every song is very unique, “Tiger Of Qin” has the guitarist using an Asian tuning and a lot of electronic effects to evoke ancient China before going into the usual heaviness. All I can say is if you like adventurous instrumental music and have ever wondered if any of that fusion you loved back in the 70’s is still alive, rest assured that it is!
All FIVE of Counter-World’s albums are available via Spotify (hot damn!) and they’re all in the playlist below. First up in the playlist is the newest one, “Music for Kings” but all of the rest of them are there too so check ‘em out and be amazed!
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