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Öxxö Xööx’s “Ÿ” Invites Bedlam to the Avant-Garde

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It is hard to describe Öxxö Xööx. This is not because of their sound, per se; a relatively brief description of that would be “post-Devin Townsend blackened doom metal” if you wanted a medium-length descriptor, though that could be trimmed up or expanded depending on your tastes. Nor is it because of necessarily any demanding outre elements within the group’s sound — these songs are delivered with the same measured sense of pacing for riffs, developments and recapitulations that marked Type O Negative at their best, showcasing the ideal form of progressive songwriting by making the longer stretches an emotionally legible longform arc rather than an endless series of unconnected sounds. Instead, what makes Öxxö Xööx difficult to describe is their curious mixture of modes, seeming at once to be both the type of band that thrives by copying a style and creating new worthwhile material in its method while at the same time being a band concerned with expansion of ideas and forms.

As for Ÿ, the band’s latest, the pivotal elements are well-executed, and they have a logical and emotional sense of continuity both internally and among each other. The only issue is of taxonomy and critique, something that makes the act of addressing it a bit more circuitous than you would for a purely inventive band or a well-executed derivative. In fairness, the broad-scale comparison to Townsend’s work comes more from a sense of post-Zappa boundlessness in composition; for Öxxö Xööx, this manifests both in some wise and adventurous choices in band members. One such is Gautier Serre, primary member of avant-garde group Igorrr, a musical project that blends extreme metal, dance music, and avant-garde electronica in a manner that makes it hard to place the group next to any of its influences. For Ÿ, primary songwriter Laurent Lunoir also added Victor Love, sole member of Master Boot Record, another avant-garde electronica/metal hybrid act producing music that similarly does not seem to fit snugly in any of its parents genres. Finally, a basis of progressive doom metal verging on the gothic undergirds Öxxö Xööx, but routine destabilizations by knifestabs of black metal, avant-garde electronic textures, and strange prog passages happen as well.

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The mood of Ÿ is vast and dark, with rich production producing a wide sonic field to dapple with various instrumental layers and flourishes. Öxxö Xööx have taken full advantage of this sonic fidelity, pushing runtimes more often in the nine-minute mark than less. There is a sense of patience with these songs, both in terms of the tempo of them but also their rate of development, feeling comfortable unfurling ideas piece by piece before minutes in finally hitting you with the kind of anthemic section that’s the parallel to choruses in progressive pieces. Song by song, these choices are a success, producing nine unimpeachable tracks; in sequence, they work together but the similar pacing across the entire album causes it to flag, robbing these songs of some of the specialness they regain when listened to on their own. If Öxxö Xööx were merely a gothic doom band with these other elements as trace flourishes, then perhaps asking for a more varied sonic palette in terms of tempos and intensities would feel out of place; instead, the group clearly shows they have the wherewithal and the ability to create work of even greater ambition.

This brings us back to the bizarre paradox of the group, one that’s hard to enunciate but easy to hear. It is easiest, critically speaking, to laud a group either as purely inventive or as one that offers intriguing tweaks to an existing idea. Öxxö Xööx is not one or the other; it is both. You can hear motes of bands that, prior to putting on their record, you never would have thought to place next to one another in your head, but then that feel is permanently married afterward. The fact that they are perhaps not inventing every idea on their record from whole cloth every moment matters strikingly little; Ÿ isn’t just a good album but an album that makes you rethink the context of the metal that it came from.

This is one of the beauties of progressive music in general. The juxtapositions present on Ÿ are intellectually intriguing and emotionally compelling, showing a striking comfort with seamless melds of seemingly disparate elements of the metal, prog, and experimental canons. Creativity, generally speaking, is rarely about some kind of philosophically impossible pure-invention and more often a rich and evocative new recombination; melding elements of the invented language avant-prog of Magma, the dramatic and subtly progressive tongue-in-cheek doom of Type O-Negative, and the manic but still very emotionally guided progressive structures of Townsend’s body of work is both a charmingly unique and an exceptionally effective set of ideas to place together in the pot.

The nine songs that comprise Ÿare thoughtfully composed and remain startling, surprising, and evocative from end to end, often feeling like exposure to mad spiritual rituals of a starborn culture born of jammed time and a malevolent splicing of DNA across the bounds of space and species. They manage to both thoughtfully create this rich and engrossing avant-garde sci-fi panoramic while just as thoughtfully nodding back to their influences, making the album feel connected to a greater artistic and aesthetic whole rather than something that pretentiously tries to set itself over others. Ÿ amounts to a heartwarming and joyous experience, one that reminds you of the childlike inventiveness and sense of pure play in both progressive and heavy metal music.

Ÿ released last Friday via Blood Music.

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