Nechochwen – Kanawha Black Review

It seems like forever since Nechochwen¬†graced our collective lobes with an album. It’s actually been 7 years since the excellent Heart of Akamon, but it feels longer given everything that’s happened since it dropped. Now we finally get new platter Kanawha Black and with it, a different approach for the West Virginia twosome. The Native American themes are still present, and their fusion of genres is still in play, but now the breadth and scope of it all has been thrown wide open. Kanawha Black is less black metal and more of a wild conglomeration of trad, trve, death, doom, folk, and black genres, with a healthy dose of 70s prog covering the writhing, wriggling offspring. The promo materials speak of wanting to take extreme metal to a new level of achievement and they’ve accomplished that, pushing genre boundaries at every opportunity. But does that make for a captivating, cohesive listening experience? That’s an open question.

The opening title track is quite the leaping off point. It’s grounded in Viking ethos but traditional metal ideas lurk around every corner and prog and folk elements flit and flirt lustily. Ensiferum-style battle hymns emerge then give way to clean sung segments that recall Borknagar‘s recent output, only to collapse into moody prog rock and then back through the gauntlet again. It’s a wild ride and mostly avoids a feeling of cut-and-paste, slap-dash songcraft. I say mostly because some of the transitions don’t feel smooth or natural and at a certain point you start to wonder if all the interesting individual segments fit together as one unified song. It’s a lot to process. “The Murky Deep” reveals a fistful of Opeth worship with fragile acoustic guitars and clean vocals alternating with death roars, kind of like that legendary act did when once they were metal. It’s one of the more engaging cuts thanks to its restraint and organic development.

From here we are treated to Morepth on the graceful 70s rock stylings of “I Can Die But Once,” and something like melancholic funeral doom on “A Cure For the Winter Plagues.” The former connects effortlessly with rich emotive charms, while the latter leaves me largely unmoved. The album winds out with two 7-plus minute mammoths which push the project’s creativity. “Visions, Dreams, and Signs” runs all over the damn map, from chest-thumping Amon Amarth battle riffs to bright melo-black moments and stylish proggy stretches that remind me of Sweven/Morbus Chron. At times there are even hints of 70s prog rock titans, Kansas. All things for all people everywhere all at once is the recipe, and when it works it’s very impressive. Again though, abrupt transitions and a sense of things being held together by duct tape and optimism hangs over the song despite many excellent moments. More successful is epic closer “Across the Divide” which finds the music more solidly situated in a Viking/folk/black sweet spot with daring side quests kept to a minimum. Because there’s so much going on musically, Kanawha Black feels longer than its 41-plus minutes, and the longer tracks can feel exhausting due to their forced progressions through myriad mediums. This also doesn’t feel like a particularly cohesive collection of songs. With so many fingers in so many pies, it often feels like a free-for-all in the writing room led to an unfocused end product with truly magical moments scattered about. That being said, most of the songs still manage to pack enough interesting moments to escape being called poor or filler.

There’s no disputing the talent Aaron Carey brings to the music. He handles vocals, guitar, keys and a collection of folk instruments and delivers on all counts. The guitar-work splashed across the album is often stunning and exquisite, be it acoustic or electric, and there are a series of magic moments to get completely lost in. As a vocalist he is highly effective as well, dabbling in black and death styles. I’m also very taken with his clean singing which is often morose and forlorn. Andrew D’Cagna provides able support on bass and drums, rounding out a rich, full sound. The duo have the talent to push their musical vision through any number of styles and nail them. The issue here is solely one of reach and ambition hobbling the songcraft. With a touch more restraint, this could be as magnificent of a beast as Heart of Akamon.

As much as I try, I just cannot get as deeply into Kanawha Black as I did with Nechochwen‘s last outing. It’s dazzling and dynamic, but I struggle to enjoy it as a complete album as it feels too disjointed and patchwork. When it’s good though, damn is it good. I suspect mileage will vary greatly with this one, and I won’t be surprised at all to see this get plenty of accolades. I wish I could be part of them. Maybe next time.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Bindrune Recordings
Websites: nechochwen.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/nechochwen
Releases Worldwide: May 13th, 2022

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