My initial reaction to Heart of Akamon was very much the opposite of that. I felt that it was over done and cheesy in the way it used not only it’s Native American influences, but in how it structured it’s melody. The album felt way too dramatic, with native flutes playing melodies that you would here on those “inspirational” Native America music CDs you can buy at gift shops anywhere near a reservation (but not on it of course, can’t give the indians money after all). It was like Disney’s Pocahontas meets black metal meets the shitty side of Agalloch.
But then about midway through something changed. I noticed that I was no longer waiting for the album to be over so that I could get on with my angry rant. I started actually enjoying what I was listening to. And by the time the last track came around I was almost in tears over how beautiful everything was. I had to go back and give this a few more listens to try to pinpoint what made me feel this way. It was then I determined exactly the culprit behind this bizarre phenomenon. In particular it’s the fourth track “October 6, 1813”. For those of your who don’t know, this is the day after Tecumseh, a great Shawnee chief, was killed in battle, and ended a massive attempted resistance against those who were oppressing his people. The track opens with one of the best riffs I’ve heard this year, and the best acoustic riff this year. It also marks the albums transition from a black metal album with some folk influences, to a folk album with some black metal influences, and as it turns out the latter is what makes the rest of the album so amazingly special.
Remember when I was talking about how metal albums with folk influences need to feel down to earth? This track, along with the rest of the album, accomplishes that in spades. Yeah, maybe it’s a bit dramatic, but I found myself excusing that in the face of some of the most beautiful music I’ve heard in a long time. The combination of earthy acoustic guitar passages, Native American flutes and drums, and the clean electric guitar riffs create one of the best soundscapes of the year.
The kicker behind all of this is how no single song on the album is alike. They all have their different feelings, personalities, melodies, atmospheres, motifs, everything. Variety is something that black metal albums tend to struggle with greatly, with every album having one specific atmosphere for the entire 40-50 minutes. This passes that test in spades, being full of color like the autumn leaves of the West Virginian mountains of which the duo of Nechochwen resides. The biggest highlight here is the final track “Kiselamakong”, which seems to be a summary of all that is learned throughout the album, combining all of the individual themes of each track in one final epic to close out a memorable record. The best example of this is towards the middle of the track, where under the harsh tone of the electric bass guitar comes a native flute riff played on the whining electric guitar. The strange way in which the guitar seems to mimic a inflection of the flute blows me away, and is a fitting conclusion to such a unique experience.
Heart of Akamon is simultaneously mournful of all of those who lost their lives in the atrocities committed against the native people’s of the U.S, and yet still hopeful for the future. I’m skeptical of any sort of positivity in black metal, but fuck me if these guys didn’t convince me it can’t be done. It’s a massive shame that the first three tracks had to be so mediocre, and that the final track, while fantastic, closes a tad weak, otherwise this would easily be an AOTY candidate. This is absolutely a can’t miss album for anyone looking for something new in the black metal genre.