Review: Use Akula to Jump-start Your Year
I went to a doctor, all he did was suck blood from my neck. Don’t go see Dr. Akula. [Editor’s Note: This review has nothing to do with god awful deathcore band Dr. Acula]
It probably doesn’t mean much at this point to say an album is the best thing I’ve heard all year, but I’m saying it anyway. After weeks of binging my favorite tracks of 2017, I was in a bit of a lull with new material. Enter Akula’s debut, Akula.
The meticulous and slippery song development is what really makes this album for me, but first, we need to talk about the elephant in the room. On play-click, I guarantee the first thing you’ll notice (and/or abhor) is the vocals. While their general sound would match well with some Intronaut-style chants, or maybe lean further on their post- sound with an Aaron Turner kinda thing, all of that has been done. Instead, falling somewhere between Robert Plant and the dude from Karnivool, the tone cuts through the sludge and fuzz, helping the songs operate on two unexpectedly parallel levels. Heavy grooves lay under the airy wails and add impressive depth. The near-falsetto isn’t an easy addition to a low pummeling groove, but to catch the ear of a new-music addict, a band needs to do something different, and Akula did not let me down. They risked being weird, and it should pay off.
The vocals would sound totally normal on some alt/prog rock thing (or whatever Tool’s genre is), but I probably wouldn’t talk about that band here. Akula mimic a bunch of modern metal tropes all at the same time, making it difficult to actually pin down a genre. Though it only shows up when needed, the traces of atmo-black tremolo are strong enough to be the basis of a whole band’s schtick, but Akula let it drop away often, leaving behind an amalgam of psych, heavy, post, and doom metals. The four songs are about ten minutes each, but progression is usually rapid but well-blended. It’s an easy listen, never jarring, but so damn difficult to classify. If you dissected every moment, you could probably match hundreds of fairly well-known influences, yet, taken as a whole, there’s no way you could say it’s derivative. Akula is both familiar and new, proving that there are still new creations to be made from the pieces we’ve seen before.
After the ten minutes of near-radio-friendly material in “A Pound of Flesh” (hooks galore!), the opening of “Force Me Open” takes its time to garner some anxiety before breaking into something of a chorus. A false ending brings a crunchy riff then explodes into something that Dead Letter Circus could have done in their mature years if they didn’t decide to be boring instead.
During the slow open on “Predators”, the guitar is stumbling around, dancing, trying to find its key. Uncomfortably paced riffs and a harsh edge finally comes to the vocals, then crashes hard on a post-metal groove. There’s not really a hook in this song, so if that’s what you’re looking for, stick to the first two tracks; however, “Predators” is packed with emotional weight, some damn fine growls, my favorite riff on the album, and a maturity not expected from a debut. This isn’t a flash in the pan, these dudes have staying power.
While this is an exceptional blend of just about everything I like, doom fans should love the riffs and tone, prog fans should love the insane dynamics, and everyone should love the vocals.
For getting me excited about new music again, this easily lands a:
4.5 out ov 5 Flaming Toilets of Hell
Akula was released January 2nd, go pick that sucker up on Bandcamp.
P.S. Props to Nate Garrett for making this album show up in my Bandcamp feed!
P.P.S. Joke obviously stolen from Mitch Hedberg.