Let’s play a game of “guess the genre!” We have a band with a nondescript, vaguely fantasy-sounding name. Google betrays it to be the Ghanese word for “heart.” The album name is Revangels, which I’m guessing is a contraction of revenge and angels? That seems likely, but I choose to believe it’s about angels that have become groupies for deceased drummer, The Rev, instead, because that’s more clever than the alternative. Finally, for the cover, we have a woman falling victim to a heated battle between two armies of Photoshop enthusiasts. If these elements make you slam the buzzer to shout “Generic Nightwishcore!” then congratulations, you have just won the grand prize in the arbitrary game show metaphor!
The amateur sleuths in the audience may have detected a hint of snide in my tone. I assure you, this is not because the sub-genre of female fronted symphonic metal contains a fairly dramatic amount of homogeneity, nor because it rarely strives for remarkable songwriting and compositional depth. It’s because even in the context of the dearth of inspiration the sub-genre usually displays, Akoma is terrible in almost every way. The drummer is the only remotely redeeming feature, and to him, I dedicate the only 4 inspiring bars on the album: the tight double-speed kicks that introduce “Change of Propensity.” The rest of the record is rife with the misuse of his talents.
Meanwhile, every other element on Revangels could sink a better album all on their own. The vocals, generally the mainstay of Nightwishcore bands, are uneven, often irritatingly nasal, and even Tanya Bell’s most inspired performances are pedestrian at best. By the time she painfully croons her way through the obligatory ballad “Humanity,” unconvincingly conveying the clichéd “Kill me slowly/so I can feel the pain,” you’re ready to take the message to heart. Most of the symphonics sound canned and unconvincing, though it can be hard to tell whether the instruments used or the production are to blame for this. The guitars are among the most nondescript I’ve ever heard, and for some unfathomable reason, there are two of them. I haven’t heard an extra guitar go to waste like this since Iron Maiden had to find a use for Janick Gers when Adrian Smith returned. There’s also a bass player according to the promo sheet.
But though all else rates a colorful variety of tepid, uninspired or irritating, the worst element by a landslide is the production. The Loudness War has become a loudness genocide here. The clipping alone should be in a war crime tribunal and it makes “Hand of Greed” and “Vita” literally unlistenable. Especially on the former, my earplugs equate to a pair of dentist drills and on my headphones, it’s like my eardrums are assaulted with a belt sander. It baffles me how a producer can declare a job well done while handing in a mix that is actually painful, without hyperbole, on any decent volume. It’s entirely possible the audio engineer has stakes in Pioneer because I predict many a blown speaker over this catastrophic master. Not all tracks carry the taint of exorbitant clipping, but if any track on an album makes me actively fear for my hearing and my equipment, I will be merciless.
I wanted to give Akoma a fair trial. Yes, my second paragraph may indicate a prejudice towards the sub-genre the band so eagerly revels in, but that’s merely because I believe it’s possible to make much better music within those confines than a large majority do. Early Nightwish and Within Temptation are a testament to that, but both have devolved towards commercialized Hot Topicness, along with most of the genre, and I’m eager to hear a band that can turn this development around. Akoma is not that band. They exemplify and magnify everything wrong about Nightwishcore and cover the results in a thick, turgid layer of loudness that should count as assault. The only reason this does not get a lower score is that the musicians aren’t actively incompetent, just extremely boring, generic and uninspired. Avoid this like the plague.