I’ll freely admit to having thrown up my hands and walked away from the majority of black metal over the past five years. Whatever drew me to the style in its infancy with Bathory and onward through Emperor and Darkthrone has all but died. I’ll still pay attention to releases by the big names, but for the most part I’ve given up the ghost. One of the rare bands that still holds a special place in my nonblack heart is West Virginia’s quirky and obscure Nechochwen. Essentially a one-man act, it incorporates loads of folk and Native American tribal music into the sound and makes it works exceptionally well. Adding flavor to the musical package, lyrics eschew the usual “Satan this, Wotan that” poppycock in favor of Native American mythology and concepts. Their debut Algonkian Mythos was an album of simple but enthralling acoustic guitar work similar to early October Falls, while Azimuths to the Otherworld added black and traditional metal as well as 70s prog, giving the music multiple layers and a unique sound. Heart of Akamon continues the evolution, taking the black and prog influences even further while telling the history of the Native Americans and their leaders like legendary warrior, Tecumseh. The result is a beautiful, emotionally charged and unusual piece of art which, if there’s any justice in the world, will elevate Nechochwen‘s status to that of one of metal’s most creative and interesting acts.
“Serpent Tradition” opens the show with sweet acoustic guitars before giving way to blackened blasting that manages to retain a strong sense of melody. There are numerous tempo shifts and when Aaron Carey’s (Nechochwen) clean vocals come in, you’ll swear you’re listening to Opeth‘s Damnation or Dan Swanö’s Nightingale project. The guitar jumps between black, traditional and death metal ideas and even manages a few leads that belong on a classic W.A.S.P. album. “Lost on the Trail of the Setting Sun” also contains a cosmic buttload of exquisite guitar work, and the riff at 5:40 is right off an Atlantean Kodex opus.
The high point comes with “October 6, 1813,” which is a stripped down acoustic piece with heartrendingly beautiful vocals and a strong Pale Communion vibe. It’s Song o’ the Year material and as sad as it is, I cannot stop playing it. There’s a lot of Agalloch‘s The Mantle drifting through the ideas on “Traversing the Shades of Death” and those influences are deftly paired with morose Finnishness akin to Rapture or Insomnium. “Skimota” is an adventurous merger of Ulver and Opeth and will hook you in immediately, and closer “Kiselamakong” even dabbles in melodic doom and pulls that off equally well.
There’s so much amazing music here that it boggles the mind. Each song has its own mood and many moments of lush experimentation, but none of it feels overly proggy or pretentious. The production is impressive despite the DR6 rating, sounding much fuller and deeper than you’d expect. The acoustic segments have a rich tone, and when things get metallic, they guitars have enough punch to get the point across. The vocals in particular pop and have a great place in the mix.
The two biggest selling points here are the guitars and vocals and Carey is responsible for both along with handling flute, Native American hand drums and the lalawas. The guitars are especially impressive throughout, be they acoustic or electric. The sheer number of sweet, hooky leads is breathtaking and there are many moments where a solo or harmony will seize your attention forcefully. His forlorn clean singing is closest to Dan Swanö’s, but there’s plenty of Mikael Akerfeldt there too. Heart of Akamon marks the first time Carey has help, with Andrew D’Cagna of Obsequiae joining to handle drums and bass. He cements the sound and provides a solid foundation upon which the duo build all sorts of interesting musical edifices. With such a musically rich and diverse album, these two gentlemen deserve all sorts of credit for making it as listenable as it is while never giving in to the temptation to over-wank.
This is one of the most enthralling and exquisite pieces of music I’ve heard in a long time. In a way this is the Native America version of Bathory‘s Hammerheart, and a lot of the atmosphere I loved on that classic platter is here as well, but with vastly superior musicianship. This will appeal to metal fans of almost any stripe and it’s one of the best albums you’ll hear this year. Do not miss this one!