“Heart of Akamon” is heart of Americana

Upon first hearing “Heart of Akamon,” my thought was: “I don’t know if Austin Lunn of Panopticon knows the guys in Nechochwen, but if not, they should get together. It seems they would be best buddies.” Austin’s home state is Kentucky and the duo in Nechochwen are right next door in West Virginia. Perhaps it makes sense, then, that both produce a form of pagan black metal based more on Americana than on frostbitten Norwegian peaks. Well, as it turns out, they do know one another, and Austin hand-drew Nechochwen’s logo! Go figure. In another weird coincidence, Tanner Anderson from Obsequiae did guest vocals on one song. I guess it’s a small, blackened world.

Associations aside, one thing is for certain: Nechochwen has black metal skills as tall and wide as the Appalachians. After an acoustic intro to set the mood, “The Serpent Tradition” comes screaming out of those mountain passes in a jaw-dropping melodic assault. While the style might be something you’d hear from their Cascadian counterparts on the other side of the country, the band soon brings in some clean vocals and guitar quite reminiscent of Opeth’s seminal “Morningrise” album before reverting back to the obsidian bliss for the rest of the song. After the instrumental “The Impending Winter,” “Lost on the Trail of the Setting Sun” attacks with even more fury than the first track, sounding very much like Panopticon. “October 6, 1813,” on the other hand, is again nearly a dead ringer for the acoustic sections of “Morningrise.” So too is the case with “Škimota,” while the instrumental “Skyhook” initially rages at top speed, yet is surprisingly upbeat with lots of major chords. As the album withdraws to lovely acoustics for its middle portion, the guitar work is especially elegant. Opeth comes to mind yet again, but this time Damnation is a more suitable reference point.

“Kišelamakong” makes for an impressive finale. Opening briefly with melancholy acoustic strains, the rhythmic pace increases with graceful melodies lightly skirting the surface. Then everything recedes as haunting Native American flute takes center stage, only to be swallowed by a wall of mammoth doom riffs rising up. One hardly has time to register shock and delight at this turn before it gets even better. A guitar enters in the warbling, flute-like style that I have always associated with Gods Tower. I adore that sound; it is rarely attempted but when done well there is nothing like it. So enchanting, powerful, and emotionally intense. It bridges the song to its final moments where spoken word is employed in tandem with clean singing to bring this epic saga to conclusion.

Lyrically, almost all of “Heart of Akamon” is based on the history of the eastern American woodlands in the late 18th/early 19th century. Mostly it deals with the tragedy that is the destruction of Native American tribes through European diseases, forced relocation, and battles. But there is a larger picture here that simply embraces that native mythology: “Kišelamakong” refers to “everything being in its place” and was inspired by the band and friends spending a day surrounded by nature, escaping the trappings of the modern world, and finding their connection back to the earth. It’s a beautiful notion that is well-suited to this beautiful and stirring album.

Hail the woodland glory here:

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