DCHM album reviewer Grimy Grant gives us another album review, this time for the self titled release by Northern Virginia natives Akris. Usually I embed a couple of songs for you to listen to at the end of the post but the only place I’ve been able to find their music streaming is here at the Obelisk where you can stream the entire album. Try opening it in another tab and give it a listen while you read Grimy Grant’s review below.
Blasting their intense bass riffs out of Frederick, Virginia, Akris has released a full-length for 2013 named after themselves: Akris. Helena Goldberg performs the bass and vocals – you can see her on the Akris band page giving the mic due punishment. What comes through the headphones in this album is a bit of Burning Witch via riot grrrl – a kind of noisy, punk-y, jazz-y rock that “creates an avalanche of bass and drums, with a layer of celestial noise on top” (from their own bio). Metal Archives lists them as stoner/sludge metal but I feel that they strive for way more than just that. The fact that they have different “multi-instrumentalist[s] and noise provocateur[s]” in addition to a drummer, Sam Lohman, is a testament to their striving to be more than just drum-and-bass sludge metal. As further proof of their eclectic roots, they are listed under their Bandcamp as “noise rock”, “hardcore punk”, and “blues”, all of which are comparable to Akris’ sound but also different.
As cool as that may be, the experimental, compositional music of this album was hard for me to enjoy. Akris leaves a weird taste in my mouth – not a bad taste, just weird enough to not make me want to go back too often. The sound of Akris to me comes off as if they rushed the release of the album, resulting in a lot of technical glitches. “Fighter Pilot”, the opening track, starts with about 5 seconds of dead space followed by some confusing bass notes that changed the pace of the song several times. It may have been intentional but comes off as amatuer. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – at times in the album I enjoyed the fuzziness of the songs – but it does cause some songs to leave a funky taste in the mouth.
The fuzzy, clunky bass is a kind of ode to punk and riot grrrl music. I mention riot grrrl only because Goldberg’s vocals remind me of Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna a bit. It also resonates similarly to Kylesa’s guitarist-singer Laura Pleasants. Goldberg’s voice alternates between lullaby-like harmonies and screaming on all of the tracks. Even so, while it sounds heavy – very heavy, in fact – the guitar riffs tend to be repetitive by the third or fourth track. Akris does better overall in the vocals department. Goldberg’s voice stays with me after every song as a beautiful but deadly thing, both harsh and melodic. In “Fighter Pilot”, after the bass settles down and her voice comes through clearer, it makes the song enjoyable, or at least easier to wrap my brain around.
Akris definitely does the job right for a sludge band by being utterly depressing despite having some rough edges. Every song, while ignoring the context, is a bummer. There’s a fascination with the spiritual and other-worldly going on, too. An example of this is in the track “Row of Lights”. Goldberg sings of how she “Went to the mountain/ To find my escape” which resulted in her looking into the sky and the moving stars. The imagery fits more with a sludge song and I liked the bass breakdowns despite it being a bit similar to the other songs. As in much of the album, there is a balance between the fierceness of Goldberg’s voice and the slowness of the bass. “Row of Lights” keeps that crazy funeral march of bass and drums just enough to keep my heart from racing too much. “Riverbed” creates a funeral bass riff coupled with a dual harmony from Goldberg. It’s a kind of darkened farewell song talking about how her “heart is broken, beneath the riverbed” followed by Goldberg screaming “what happened to us?/ Why?” in a kind of frustrated cry to the dark river she’s beneath. Despite the clunky bass it has a way of blotting out any happiness in the room and drives home its message. The unusual harmony and composition pay off in these songs well.
The flipside of the experimental noise is that it sometimes hurts the songs. The following song after “Riverbed”, “Vomit Within” has disjointed harmony along with some stranger lyrics that I wasn’t able to make too much sense of: “There is a place inside my head/ That opens up when I am dead” followed by mentions of a shadowy figure. Piecing together how the lyrics of this song play with the rest of the “Vomit Within” caused some head scratching. Is the opening and the “shadow” that Goldberg sings about what we’re vomiting into? The metal name of the song just clashes too much with the sweet singing for it to make sense for me. It’s also hard to follow at about four minutes into the song when a male voice joins her (possibly a member of Admiral Browning) and the song gets weirder and more disharmonious. I love weird stuff, don’t get me wrong, but this just rubbed me the wrong way. All the parts were there for a great song like in “Riverbed” but they just didn’t pace well and it sounds unfinished.
Akris would be a great live band and I’d love to see them perform. In the studio, there is too much thumping, rusty Sunn amp bass distracting me from the rest of the songs. There are moments I found myself nodding to the rhythm though, and I feel that the technical glitches would go forgiven in a live setting, particularly in a DIY venue. At Hole in the Sky, Corpse Fortress, or Girl Cave there were some great bands that took the experimental route. At those shows I remember descending into each house’s basement, someone turning the lights off, and hearing some blasting, out of this world noise. Those are happy memories and I feel transported to those basements when I listen to Akris. I don’t remember anyone, including me, caring about glitches or the content of songs – it was more about the moment. Time has made me a grown-ass man now so maybe that’s my problem with this (feel free to digi-hurl old man jokes/rotten tomatoes at my Twitter handle @jgrantd – I don’t get a lot of traffic on Twitter as it is). Akris aims at a higher goal of doing something compositional and creative with their work – something that I gather from their band bio on their page. While it’s hard to get into at times I still like how they are trying something new. And Akris should be commended for their bravery in doing the unusual without being afraid of occasionally sounding off.