Thursday, July 2, 2015

Akhlys - The Dreaming I

This album has black metal guitar and vocal tones absolutely nailed down. Akhlys’ strengths on The Dreaming I, should be familiar to anyone familiar with Nightbringer (Naas Alcameth does vocals and guitars for both bands) but the approach here feels more methodical and has a stronger emphasis on ambient sections that add a dark and palatial atmosphere. A really important part of the riffing style is how the full range of the guitar is utilized so well. It’s to the point where on The Dreaming I, Akhlys makes other bands look like they all use five string guitars.

As much as it’s fun to be a champion for the idea that all bands have a unique identity, you can’t quite escape the impression that Akhlys and Nightbringer’s share the same orbit. Sure, there is a swing towards ambiance, but if you were to compare it to how 1349’s Hellfire measures up against 1349’s Demonoir (or between Carpathian Forest and Nattefrost), it would easily be less than half the difference. Obviously Akhlys’ style leans more towards the symphonic side of black metal. But the synths have such a feather light touch that it ends up not being a huge point of difference.

It all works in Akhlys’ favor though because the hard-edged vocals and guitars stay in focus, while the synths and drums tactfully garnish them. Ambient sections are used to control pacing rather than just being filler. The percussion in particular is a great part of the album, even without ever jumping too much into the foreground. Devoid of any ostentation but not stripped down to essentials, there is plenty of rhythmic presence to keep things moving along. Imagine a big burly bartender ejecting a drunk while never laying a hand on anyone or causing a scene - effective and strong, but discreet.

At the album’s heart are the guitars and vocals. The guitar tone sounds like the strings are made out of diamond-infused platinum and dipped in icy spring water that feeds into the fountain of youth. Just listen to “Consummation.” The simple high-register melody there is perhaps the strongest part of the album, due in large part to the incredible tone. Vocals here are also extremely intense, and they have ridiculous sustain. Naas Alcamet shoves more air across his vocal cords than ought to be possible. In fact, if you were to cut open his thoracic cavity you’d find that instead of a normal set of organs that everything was just lungs. What's also really great about these vocals is how despite their often high pitch, they lack that irritating squeaking overtone that often creeps into high pitch black metal.

For anyone that shies away from symphonic black metal for being too soft, The Dreaming I is a great workaround. It shows that you can simultaneously have a ton of atmosphere without taming any heaviness or violence. Tonally though, this is absolutely top of the line.

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