Can the front man for a pop-metal band eventually become an avant-garde composer? If it were still the '70s, I'd say no -- probably the only thing those metalheads are good for are starring in a reality show or a VH1 documentary. But in the new millennium, with the worlds of music crossing over fractally via the Internet and the proliferating rhizomes of the underground, it's now possible for almost anyone with a sufficiently open mind to evolve and grow musically ad infinitum.
Exhibit one is Mike Patton. Ten years ago, he was the emotive belter for the band Faith No More. Then, he progressed to the art-rock craziness of Mr. Bungle, a genre-smashing hybrid between the oeuvres of Frank Zappa and John Zorn. He appeared on Zorn's Tzadik label with a Dadaist vocal release. And finally, there's Fantomas -- starting out on two albums as soundtrack-style vignettes for classic sci-fi and horror flicks, this super-group quartet (guitarist Buzz of Melvins, drummer Dave Lombardo of Slayer, Trevor Dunn of Bungle) has become much more than a mere spooky instrumental/orchestral band influenced by metal and cartoons.
The new Delirium Cordia isn't short pieces -- instead, it's one long Ã¼ber-werk consisting of many linear segments, the kind of avant-garde opus classical reviewers call "serious music." There are flashes of rock heaviness, but much either sounds like electro-acoustic musique concrete (electronic tone sweeps, radio broadcasts, noise crackles, sheet metal scrapes), a new-music ensemble (harp, piano, gong, etc.), or a darkly symphonic prog-rock band such as Univers Zero, possibly mixed with a bit of angst-industrial nihilism and clangor, a la Einsturzende Neubauten.
Delirium's overarching thematic material is a soundtrack to a surgeon's operating theater, as evidenced by the very gory and graphic booklet photos. Sonic hints are sprinkled throughout: the beep of an EKG, a pager going off, a recorded heartbeat, an emergency room shout of "Clear!" and so on. Patton's composition also owes a debt to several other artists, which he acknowledges in the liner notes: the tape compositions of Eliane Radigue, the spectacular bloodletting ritual performance art of Hermann Nitsch, the pioneering symphonic work of French composer Olivier Messiaen (and possibly Giacinto Scelsi), and glitch-IDM laptop duo Matmos (whose 2001 album A Chance To Cut Is a Chance To Cure also relied heavily on surgical sound samples).
It's an amazingly complex, mature and thoughtful work for a guy who once sang over the goofy funk of "We Care a Lot." Now that he's also formed a noise duo with Merzbow, it seems there's no limit to what he can accomplish. Maybe Mills College should get an endowed chair ready for the inevitable advent of Professor Michael Patton, honored recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. Or maybe he'll just go play video games.