I’ve been known to have some very vivid, fucked up dreams. One involved my closest friends and I at a pirate-themed amusement park. A gunshot rang out, and my best friend hit the ground, bullet between the eyes, and people scattered to avoid getting pinged off by a crazed gunman with a sniper rifle. One by one, my friends were felled by this mysterious masked man, and as I was cornered by the rum barrels of the pirate ship, both scared shitless and seasick, the masked man inched towards me, stuffed parrot squawking on his shoulder, and he slowly began to remove his ski-mask, revealing himself as American talk-show host/eternal paternity test-giver Maury Povich, letting me know, once and for all, that I was not the father before he pulled the trigger and I woke up. And with that, Akhlys! Conceived by Nightbringer and Bestia Arcana mainman Naas Alcameth, his newest excursion into esoteric blackened realms focuses on the power of dreams and their connection to spirituality, with only one 37-minute song, “Supplication,” released beforehand. Does their full-length debut, The Dreaming I, carry you to the darker spirit realms, or are you better off just taking some melatonin and valerian root and hoping for the best?
Keeping with the ethereal vibe of dreams and spiritual awakenings, “Breath and Levitation” crawls in with creepy whooshes, what sounds like wood knocking, and some simple chugs of guitar and bass with a snare hit every now and then. And when I say “crawls in,” I mean “for the first two and a half minutes.” After that, it’s full-on blasting, blaring, blackened fury. Alcameth’s screams are witch-like and furious, yet somewhat discernible, which for black metal is no mean feat. Also witch-like and furious are his multi-layered guitars, with incredible tremolo melodies draped over each other, melding together like a symbiotic skin over drummer Ain’s vice-grip drums. And just before the 8:00 mark, a moment of silence comes out of nowhere before a breakdown hits that would make Blut Aus Nord give a serious glance or two. Quite incredible.
And it’s this amalgamation of Hierophany of the Open Grave-era Nightbringer and heady ambience that helps The Dreaming I punctuate your cranium long after the 45-minute runtime ends. Despite the 16-minute length (with four of those minutes being ambient sound effects), “Consummation” is the best Memoria Vetusta song Blut Aus Nord neglected to write, with yet another silence-and-then-BOOM! moment at 9:22, leaving one hell of a demonic grin on my face. However, if there’s a case for Alcameth’s standing among the American black metal pantheon, it’s the second track, “Tides of Oneiric Darkness.” This is just sheer ferocity, with some of the best tremolo melodies I’ve heard this year, elevating things to cold, atmospheric heights. And at only five minutes and thirty-three seconds, it does the job quite well without overstaying its welcome.
There are nits to pick, however. For as punishing as this album is, the production is even more so. Everything is cranked to 11, and although you can hear the drums just fine, the guitars can become a muddled mess. And bass? PFFFFFFFT!!! Also, even though it’s five songs at 45 minutes, it can be a bit of a difficult listen at times (with final song “Into the Indigo Abyss” being just ambient noise), and patience, as well as your attention, is demanded here.
Still, this is just behind Imperial Triumphant as my favorite black metal album this year. This is some pretty impressive stuff, and if you enjoy Alcameth’s work with Nightbringer, than The Dreaming I is a no-brainer. So consume, slip away, and remember that you are NOT the father.