Review of Akris’s Self-Titled Album

Band: Akris
Album: Akris
Release Date: 24 September 2013
Record Label: Domestic Genocide Records
Buy from Bandcamp (digital) for $9.99: Here
Buy from Blue Collar Distro (CD) for $9.99: Here

Cover of s/t Akris release

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.

Recap of Black Skies gig at the Cellar Door

This isn’t a full review but a fairly quick recap of the house show I went to on Tuesday the 6th of September 2011. It took place on one of a string of rainy nights at a DIY venue I had been meaning to get to for a while, the Cellar Door. This is not to be confused with the historic Cellar Door venue that was in Washington DC from 1965 to 1981. They have nothing to do with each other besides the name. The house in Annandale, Virginia that I was at did in fact have a cellar door and the bands used it to carry equipment to and from the basement area that they were performing in. I looked around a bit, the basement wasn’t very large but it was good enough for a house show. The walls weren’t really decorated down there, other than an old Dysrhythmia show poster hanging by one thumb tack on the wall. Upstairs there was a small bar that was covered in merch, which one of the houses’ resident cats was relaxing on. There was also a back deck area but I didn’t really go out there because I don’t smoke any more and it seemed kind of crowded. The people there were nice and even though I didn’t show up with anyone else I found plenty of people to talk throughout the evening between bands. They also had an interesting collection of books on shelves and stacked around the main living room area covering all kinds of subjects like art, fantasy, politics, science and other stuff as well. I didn’t really thumb through anything but I did see a few people doing so. A hat was passed around for donations to the bands. There was no official cover charge for the show, just an understanding that you’d throw in a few dollars to help support the bands. The people hosting the gig were cool and offered me a burger fresh off the grill and a beer from the fridge, though I had just eaten at Five Guys before the show. Had I known I would have skipped it so as to get there in time for the first band, Ancient Astronaught, which I missed entirely.

The second band to play, and the first I got to see, was Trade from Toms Brook, Virginia (that’s out west a bit past where 66 hits 81). They were a sort of rock/stoner band and I wouldn’t call them bad but they didn’t really stand out much to me and their songs didn’t seem to have a lot of variation. They were a good start for the evening though, and they gave me a chance to practice shooting in the close quarters of the basement.
Trade at the Cellar Door

The next band up was Black Skies from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They’re a sort of sludge/stoner band and these guys had some crazy energy going. You could tell it was going to be a fun set when Kevin Clark started playing his guitar with his teeth during the first song! The three piece played exciting songs and the dual vocals from Kevin as well as bass player Michelle Temple worked really well. The basement got pretty damn hot while they played though and I had to put my camera away eventually because the lens was fogging up. Definitely my favorite set of the night.
Black Skies at the Cellar Door

The next band to play was the local act Akris. I’ve been meaning to catch them live for a while but for one reason or another I hadn’t gotten the chance to until this evening. They are also a three piece with a woman on bass, but the similarities pretty much ended there. For starters the drummer was more prominent in the band’s sound because there was no guitar player. The band’s sound was much more raw as well, but that’s not a bad thing. There also seemed to be a bit of a punk edge in there. And if you weren’t up front you might not have realized the third member of the band, Jon Simler, who was sitting on the floor fidgeting with various DJ tools. For the most part you couldn’t really hear what he was adding to the music, except during the occasional break between bass lines. The audience seemed to enjoy Akris a lot and there was even a semblance of a mosh pit in the crammed basement area they were playing in. Their set ended just before midnight and their performance was a great way to end the show.
Akris at the Cellar Door

This was the first time I’ve been to the Cellar Door. I’ve known of a few previous shows there but schedule conflicts have kept me from showing up in the past. After seeing such a fun show, and with the Corpse Fortress shutting down at the end of September, I wanted to write something here to draw some attention to this place, one of the few DIY venues in the area that will still host metal bands. The basement is smaller than the Corpse Fortress but the place isn’t trashed as much either. No, it’s not going to replace the Corpse Fortress but it is an example of someone else helping to keep the local DIY scene alive. You can be sure that I’ll post more of the Cellar Door’s upcoming shows on the Upcoming Concerts Calendar as I hear about them (you can also find info on the last Corpse Fortress show on Sept 24th there). For more info on local DIY venues and concerts (metal or otherwise) in the DC area I highly recommend regularly checking out Dirty City Shows at http://inyrbasement.tumblr.com. You don’t have to pay a $15 Ticketmaster fee on top of a ticket price to see a great metal show in this area. You might not get all the crazy stage lighting but you won’t pay $7 for a Budweiser either. Go out and see bands, not just the ones you are in or your friends are in, but check out new bands and see if you find something new you like. Get out and support the scene you’re a part of!

Notes from Metal Monday

This isn’t a full review of the Metal Monday show on 10 January 2011, but a quick recap of the night.

The show was supposed to start at 8 but didn’t start til after 9pm. Lunar Frost dropped off the bill and was replaced by Akris. The BCS football championship was on the TVs that night too, Auburn beat Oregon.

The first band up was a black metal band from Chantilly named Dragon Wing Begonia. They weren’t bad, though some of their songs were a bit too long. I did enjoy them though. No bass player, but they had a stuffed purple dragon on the mic stand, wtf? They were giving away copies of their demo and I should have those posted to the Downloads section soon.

The next band was Croatoan, who I’d seen at the State Theatre back in August. I enjoyed this set a lot more. Their State show seemed a bit too eclectic of a mix of styles, they seemed more focused this time around. They said they’d be recording their first demo in February, and I’m looking forward to that.

Putrid Servant played after them, a black metal band from Baltimore with ex-members of Corporeal. I’d been meaning to catch them for a while and they were the main reason I came out this night. They didn’t disappoint, I really enjoyed their dissonant set and was happy to finally see them. I’d have bought a shirt or something afterwards but they didn’t have any merch with them.

Wolfnuke is a blackened thrash band from Gaithersburg, Maryland. They brought out some big stacks of amps and really wowed the crowd with their relentless energy and shredding riffage. I’d never heard of them before but I hope they play around here again soon, they were really fun live and impressed everyone in attendance. I definitely recommend see them if you get a chance.

Akris was the final band, but they didn’t start setting up until well after midnight and I was already yawning looking at a 45 minute drive home. I should have stayed though because 495 was shut down for construction and I sat in park for 30 minutes there, so annoying. Really wished I had stayed for Akris after that. Hopefully they’ll play again soon because I’d like to see them.

A fun night for $5 and it’s always nice seeing some of the random people from the local metal scene who show up at So Addictive for Metal Mondays there. I shot some video, all of which is horribly dark, but should give you a chance to at least hear three of the above mentioned bands.

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