Being my first review of 2015, I think it’s fitting that I wish all the AMGers out there a Happy New Year. May it be filled with joy! Conversely, I have two words for 2014: fuck you. Seriously, what a shit year you turned out to be. And no, I’m not talking about metal releases. Thanks, 2014, for dragging me and my brood through a defunct startup, poverty pay, and never-ending nights in the lab so you could drop me less than a week before Christmas. You’re lucky you’re not still around or I’d shove my foot so far up your ass, “Auld Lang Syne” would ring in your ears like a funeral hymn. Thankfully there are some positives. For instance, I am sitting here as a writer for one of my favorite sites ever; sharing music and Jørn-isms around the AMG break table and getting to know these great writers I’ve admired for years along with the new scribes I’ve had the privilege to write alongside these past few months. So I propose a toast to 2014 (courtesy of Mr. Druhm’s creepy obsession with collecting the drippings off Jørn’s body as he powers through his spin class). May it be full of new careers, long-lasting relationships, great metal, and some better times (otherwise I’ll be forced to legally change my last name to Griest). Now, before this psychotic ranting continues, let’s see if Volahn’s new release brings optimism for 2015.
Thankfully, it’s just unique enough to make it good. Aq’Ab’Al is the natural progression from mastermind Eduardo “Volahn” Ramírez’s Dimensiónes del Trance Kósmico debut. Founder of the mysterious, passionate, and ever-working Black Twilight Circle, Ramírez handles recording duties for the bands of the Circle and participates in many of them. Of all of his projects, Volahn is Ramírez’s personal outlet, allowing him to be sole writer and multi-instrumentalist (excluding the drums) in order to craft albums around his every passion. With Aq’Ab’Al, he delves deeper into native ideology and uses these six tracks of black metal assault, Spanish lyrics and Spanish-style guitar work to grow his infant child.
Clocking in at close to 60 minutes, this album is chockfull of 10ish minute journeys that result in anger, darkness, blackened fury, melodic guitar leads, and haunting acoustic work. Songs like the spectacular “Bonampak” and “Koyopa” top the eleven minute mark and utilize everything from Norwegian to post-black styles to tell their stories. “Bonampak” begins with a standard tremolo-picking BM assault and rasping vox before introducing Alcest-meets-Watain atmosphere that glides into some Spanish plucking. Opener “Najtir Ichik” incorporates similar BM riffage and an acoustic guitar/key outro, but it’s the Shadowthrone-era acoustic guitar at the end of “Koyopa” that’s the most memorable and haunting of them all.
This emotion and atmosphere is common in Volahn’s writing, providing a genuine uniqueness and originality to Aq’Ab’Al. Though similarities to other post-black bands exist (with an interesting touch of early-Opera IX in the short “Halhi K’ohba”), the individuality of the lyrical content and musical inspirations make it stand out among the rest. Unfortunately, many of the longer songs are long and follow a similar trend in their roller coaster ride of blackness, melody and acoustic flourishes. Though they are still haunting, memorable, and powerful, these songs are slightly predictable. Luckily, ditties like “Halhi K’ohba” and “Quetzalcoati” breakup the lengthier tracks a bit (even if I do find them less memorable).
However, the production finds the guitars and vocals up front, the drums just behind, and the bass lost in the woods somewhere. While not completely absent, the only real bass presence in the entire album is during the outro to “Koyopa.” Also, the DR5 does nothing to help the overall quality of the album. All of those cleaner passages would really benefit from less brick and mortar, and the reciprocating-saw qualities of the guitars are eardrum shattering at times because of the production. But who gives a shit about quality when you’re stuck buying this album on cassette, right? [Of course, because as we all know production is more authentic when it blows. – AMG] Yep, most Black Twilight Circle releases come in the form of cassette tape. Aq’Ab’Al is definitely an interesting listen (with an interesting album cover) that finds Ramírez’s songwriting stronger than ever. Also, it’s a great way to pummel the ass of 2014.