11 Non-Metal Instrumental Albums By Metal Artists

Published: September 12, 2023

Whatever you deem the first piece of metal music to be (King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” if you ask me), it’s safe to say that heavy metal has been rattling humanity’s collective conscience for a half century at least, and like most musical genres its evolution has often called upon outside influences to add metaphorical fuel to the proverbial hellfire. Case in point, ask your favorite metal musician what they are currently listening to and you’ll often discover a decidedly un-metal playlist lingering in the shadows.  Subgenre blending aside, I’ve always been drawn to metal bands and artists who weave un-metal influences into their sonic visions of cathartic chaos. Whether it’s Devin Townsend’s affinity for new age, Mikael Åkerfeldt’s deep knowledge of progressive rock, Orphaned Land’s marriage of Middle Eastern melodies and instrumentation or Zeal & Ardor’s unholy union of black metal with African American blues and spiritual music, the coastal waters where heavy metal waves crash upon unfamiliar shores have forever been a breeding ground for inspiration. Though rooted in rebellion, heavy metal conservatism is often quick to denounce anything that strays too far from the path, so it’s no surprise that those about to rock may find themselves reaching for a new aural palette from time to time. With this in mind (and my obsession for instrumental music close at hand), I’ve gathered a special collection of non-metal instrumental releases from metal affiliated artists which may have slid beneath the radar upon their release. So please enjoy this examination of heavy musicians wordlessly experimenting with diverse elements beyond their established metals.

–Nathanael Larochette

T.R.A.M. – T.R.A.M. (2012) – Progressive Jazz Fusion

Boasting a stacked line up featuring Tosin Abasi (Animals as Leaders), Javier Reyes (Animals as Leaders/Mestis), Eric Moore (ex-Sly and The Family Stone/ex-Suicidal Tendencies) and Adrián Terrazas-González (ex-The Mars Volta/Omar Rodríguez-López), TRAM’s lone debut sees the supergroup traversing the realms of jazz fusion with clear undercurrents from each respective member’s resume. Balancing melody, groove and surprisingly restrained (yet unsurprisingly tight) performances, the album wastes no time in demonstrating what this unexpected assortment of heavy hitters are capable of smacking out of the park. Here’s hoping they find themselves in the same jam room sooner rather than later.

Chris Letchford – Lightbox (2014) – Jazzy Smooth Prog

Widely known for his work with trailblazing progressive instru-metalists Scale The Summit, Chris Letchford’s affinity for jazz harmony is given plenty of breathing room across this, his first and (so far) only solo release. Sacrificing his usual distorted palette, Lightbox utilizes a completely clean guitar approach supported by dancing piano lines which shimmer their way throughout the album. At times a relaxed progressive rock daydream, at others a warm smooth jazz drive along the coast, Letchford expertly threads the needle between the two while keeping things engaging. With a supporting cast featuring members of The Reign of Kindo as well as former The Faceless/Entheos and current Fallujah bassist Evan Brewer (more on him later), the album is a beautiful example of how reducing distortion can leave a wealth of space for other elements to flourish. Fans of this should also lend an ear to “History of Robots,” the lone release from Letchford’s side project Islnds.

Anders Björler – Antikythera (2013) – Cinematic Post-Prog

Having contributed some of the most iconic riffs within the heavy metal canon courtesy of At The Gates, it should come as no surprise that Anders Bjöler’s compositional gifts transferred seamlessly to his solo debut. Best described as cinematic post rock with progressive sensibilities, Antikythera is an incredible blend of layered riffs and earworm melodies that rise and fall like the tides. Featuring the dexterous drumming of Swedish wizard Morgren Ågren (Devin Townsend/Frederik Thorendal’s Special Defects) the album was released to little fanfare a decade ago and remains a hidden wonder worth discovering, much like the album title’s mysterious muse.

Rosetta – Audio/Visual (2015) – Ambient Post-Rock

Known for their crushing brand of celestial post metal, Rosetta’s ambient excursions have always acted as the expansive map upon which the Philadelphia, PA ensemble have charted their collective adventures across the ether. The official soundtrack for the 2014 documentary chronicling the band’s history, Audio/Visual sees their penchant for decayed delay and looped atmospherics on full display, leading to a beautiful set of post ambient anthems. My go to bedtime album for many years, fans of the more relaxed output from cinematic rock heavyweights Mogwai and This Will Destroy You will certainly enjoy their next star gaze to this quiet gem.

Blood Incantation – Timewave Zero (2022) – Kosmiche Synth Drone 

Celebrated death metal cosmonauts Blood Incantation made it very clear that things would take a turn on Timewave Zero, so anyone complaining that this sounds like a completely different band likely didn’t get the memo. As someone who loves to see musicians stretch their creative wings, I eagerly awaited this record’s release to hear where Blood Incantation’s new spaceship had taken them. Consisting of two longform pieces, the album is best described as a deep listen, submerged in layers of synthesized ear candy with plenty of other textures to accompany you on your journey. Quite possibly my nighttime headphone album of the year, Timewave Zero is a genuine labor of love from a band boldly going where they’ve never gone before.

Evan Brewer – Your Itinerary (2013) – Progressive Fusion Rock

One look at Evan Brewer’s resume and it’s clear that the man is a beast. From his time with progressive hardcore politicists Reflux (feat. Tosin Abasi), to The Faceless and Entheos, Evan Brewer knows his way around the bass. While his impressive debut Alone saw him exploring the instrument’s limits in a stark solo setting, Your Itinerary sees Brewer embracing the role of band leader, accompanied by percussive/production powerhouse Navene K (ex-Animals as Leaders, Entheos) and some friends from the Nashville scene. Fusing elements of prog, jazz and electronic music, the album is a dynamic whirlwind that deserves more ears and attention than I feel it received upon its 2013 release. The closest thing I’ve found to sorely missed Cynic bass legend Sean Malone’s Gordian Knot project, I highly recommend this record to any metal fan who enjoys the more progressive end of the non-metal spectrum.

Trioscapes – Separate Realities (2012) – Progressive Jazz Fusion

I once played the track “Mirrors” from Between The Buried and Me’s incredible 2009 release The Great Misdirect to a jazz singer friend of mine. “This is kinda jazzy,” I said. “This is not jazz,” she replied. While the metalhead dictionary’s description of jazz may not always align with common definitions, there’s no denying the jazz fusion engine powering Trioscape’s debut Separate Realities. Featuring BTBAM bassist Dan Briggs, Cynic drummer Matt Lynch and Briggs’ Disorder Assembly woodwind co-conspirator Walter Fancourt, the album’s cover of Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Celestial Terrestrial Commuters should clearly indicate the coordinates of their mothership. Packed with incredible performances, it’s this record’s sense of pacing and dynamics that keep me coming back. Be sure to check out their second release Digital Dream Sequence for more fiery fusion fun.

Agalloch – The White EP (2008) – Atmospheric Dark Folk

When examining Portland, OR blackened folk metal legends Agalloch’s flawless catalog, their commanding use of acoustic instruments and textures emerges as one of the main elements weaving everything together. Although acoustics in metal have been around since the early years, Agalloch’s ability to paint fire across the skyline with a single strum of grandpa’s guitar is precisely why the White EP is such a unique jewel in their crown. Revisiting the album this past winter during what meteorologists called a once in a generation snowstorm, it felt like the perfect soundtrack to the layers of ice forming on my window. So whether you’re locked inside watching winter swallow your city whole or simply lounging in the sun laughing at those who are, do yourself a favor and revisit this classic.

Humanoid – Remembering Universe (2008) – Cosmic Prog Folk

Montreal’s rich metal heritage is an undeniable fact at this point and spending the better part of my life a mere two hours away in Ottawa, ON has allowed me to witness much of this evolving legacy firsthand. While many bands come and many bands go, Montreal’s death metal dark horse Augury continue to punch above their weight, releasing quality material at their own pace since their classic debut Concealed back in 2004. No stranger to cosmic and esoteric soundscapes, Augury guitar master Mathieu Marcotte launched Humanoid in 2008 as a satellite for orbiting the sound planets between his eclectic electric abilities and dizzying acoustic chops. Featuring scene legends Dominic “Forest” Lapointe (Augury/First Fragment) and 9-string bass wizard Chaoth (Unexpect/Vvon Dogma I), Remembering Universe reminds us that acoustic guitars are just as capable of conjuring deep space and uncertain futures as they can dense forests and kingdoms passed.

Blind Guardian Twilight Orchestra – Legacy of the Dark Lands (Instrumental Version) (2019) – Cinematic Orchestral Grandeur

Since the beginning, German power metal legends Blind Guardian have been masters of the grandiose, so it’s no surprise that the road from their doorstep would eventually lead to Legacy of the Dark Lands, their first completely orchestral release. Compositionally credited to vocalist Hansi Kürsch and guitarist André Olbrich, the album sees the two musicians realize a vision as triumphant and widescreen as one would expect from these modern metal bards. While classical and metal have flirted many times over the years, never before has this relationship blossomed into quite the love affair we have here. Despite being a vocal album, I’ve added this record’s instrumental edition to the list as it stands as the only instrumental metal-adjacent and purely symphonic release in existence (as far as I’m aware). Setting aside Hansi Kursch’s inimitable vocals and the record’s thematic ties to author Markus Heitz’s The Dark Lands (with all due respect), the sheer detail and drama within the arrangements are a true feast for the ears that can only fully be appreciated when immersed in the record’s instrumental mixes. Twenty years in the making, Legacy of the Dark Lands is a monumental accomplishment that sets a new bar for what kind of mightiness the unplugged metal mind can conjure through human, instrument, and sound alone.

Raphael Weinroth-Browne – Worlds Within (2020) – Progressive Post Classical

Your favorite metal band’s favorite cellist, Raphael Weinroth-Browne emerged on the global metal scene after Norwegian prog wizards Leprous recruited him on sight following a fabled 2016 opening set in Ottawa, ON. Since then, Weinroth-Browne has appeared on the last three Leprous records, performed at Hellfest and Royal Albert Hall, toured Europe and North America numerous times, shared stages with the likes of Devin Townsend, Between The Buried and Me, and The Ocean, all while maintaining a grueling session schedule. Whenever Raphael emerges with cello in hand you can’t blame people for wanting a piece of the magic, but if you want to hear the man’s compositional powers untethered, look no further than his debut solo release Worlds Within. A continuous forty-minute suite for looped electric and acoustic cello, Worlds Within filters Weinroth-Browne’s progressive metal, neoclassical, and world music influences into a stunning monument of mood and melody. Be sure to check out his improvised world music duo Kamancello, his cello-voice duo The Visit as well as our progressive chamber project Musk Ox for more bowed string mastery.


Nathanael Larochette – Old Growth (2023) – Solo Nature Folk

Ten years after discovering Agalloch’s timeless sophomore release The Mantle in 2003, I found myself in a Portland, OR studio facing the band and legendary engineer Billy Anderson, all waiting for me to play my acoustic guitar. As much as I dreamed of metal stardom as a teenager I could never (and still cannot) escape the spell of acoustic music, but little did I know what kind of worlds this enchantment could invoke. The interludes I composed for Agalloch’s The Serpent & The Sphere eventually laid the foundation for my new album Old Growth, a collection of minimalist interludes for solo acoustic guitar. Released with an accompanying guitar book, my intention was to create a collection of solo nature folk pieces that could work both as stand-alone music as well as compelling guitar exercises for anyone interested in exploring the world of fingerpicking. The lead single “Ashes” was actually a piece I composed for The Serpent & The Sphere that, although it didn’t make the album, became the seed for the rest of this collection. Fans of my Agalloch interludes or the acoustic side of metal should find something to enjoy here.

The post 11 Non-Metal Instrumental Albums By Metal Artists appeared first on Invisible Oranges - The Metal Blog.

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