As a young lad (of twelve, or perhaps younger), I was always fascinated by Native American history and culture. Of course, the version I had in childhood was the over-edited one, in which the native inhabitants of my country simply (and vaguely) disappeared one day, to eventually evolve into the society that dominates the land today. As I aged, my appetite to learn finally overcame the primary school version of events. Today, I’m always glad to see an effort made to tell this saddest of stories to large audiences, and extra happy when those large audiences are heavy metal fans. A few years ago, Nechochwen blew me away with their retelling; now it is Akando’s turn. Attack from Ambush is Akando’s debut album, a melodic death metal project imbued with Native American imagery and instrumentation.
Attack from Ambush is a very straightforward album. Very little about it is surprising or overly exciting. By the end of “Reservation,” the first proper song, you already have a pretty good idea of where the album is going. Solid melodeath riffing carries songs through a sea of tremolos, raspy screams, and the occasional interlude featuring traditional instrumentation, typically flutes and shamanistic drums. If all of this sounds like the formula for a pretty enjoyable listen, then you and I are on the same page. “Reservation,” “Wakan Tanka Nici Un,”1 and “Two Wolfs Dwell In Me” are all great examples of modern melodic death metal goodness. I particularly like the vocal delivery, which manages to be both commanding and intelligible, no easy feat for the harsh style.
The most notable thing about your (melodic) death metal album being its riffs is obviously not a bad thing, but it can make for some potential issues with a repetitive sound. Akando look to remedy this issue through the use of authentic Native instrumentation, particularly through wind instrument interludes and clean chanting. These are always welcome breaks from the walls of riffing that dominate the album (again, not a bad thing in itself), but I wish they came more frequently. “The March of a Thousand Miles” is the standout track of the album, evocative and emotional as it tells a story of failure, defeat, and a Trail of Tears. The verses are accented with an emotional flute, while clean chanting brings the chorus to life in a powerful way. The aforementioned intelligibility of the harsh vocals never shines more brightly than on this song, and it’s the easy highlight of the album.
Unfortunately, this emotional and instrumental variation does not follow the listener through the full album, which makes much of Attack from Ambush feel like it’s missing something. When I think about “Raven Mocker,” for example, I only remember the chorus (and, to its credit, this album has a power-metal-like quality for strong choruses). There is a noticeable difference in the quality of tracks like “The March of a Thousand Miles” and “Wakan Tanka Ici Un” compared to “Heavy Runner Massacre,” which can make listening to the album in full a bit of an uneven experience. Fortunately, the production across Attack from Ambush is consistently clear, and the album is well-mixed, prioritizing the riffing and vocal style that so well defines it. This certainly helps to combat the issue of unevenness, but the 52-minute runtime still manages to feel a fair bit longer by the end when a number of songs blend together along the way.
Attack from Ambush is a solid melodeath album with an interesting premise that I wish had been more fully realized. The riffs are strong, the choruses are memorable, and the album’s peaks made a solid impact in this reviewer’s skull. There is definitely room for improvement here, but Akando have made a good enough impression that I’m already looking forward to more. Inevitable comparisons to Nechochwen aside, Akando are doing a fair job of establishing themselves as a Native American-themed band to keep an eye on—and believe me, I will be. It’s dangerous to take your eye off an ambush, after all.