Nechochwen – Heart of Akamon

I hadn’t really heard of Nechochwen when I first listened to this album. I was aware of the sort of Native American themes they focus on but otherwise I was in the dark, having basically stumbled onto this album’s page on the Nordvis Records Bandcamp. But it seemed intriguing, and any album whose tags include “black metal”, “acoustic”, and “folk rock” definitely has my attention. But this album totally blew me away.

As a European largely unfamiliar with the United States’ early history, it might be that some of the themes of this American band’s album have gone over my head. That said, the album’s themes of Native American heritage, history, and struggle are still resonant and powerful. You can feel in this music the whole journey of hope and sorrow. The opening track ‘The Serpent Tradition’ (and one of my favourites overall) is a winding 7-minute black metal opus, flowing naturally from searing black metal riffs to some really tasteful acoustic moments and clean singing. The following track ‘The Impending Winter’ is a short interlude but which powerfully exemplifies the themes on this album. Beginning with a beautiful, simple acoustic passage, the song fades out into the next track which begins with the sounds of gunshots. You can hear the cries of wildlife and women screaming, setting the scene before massive tremolo-picked riffs and blastbeats burst into life and the song gets underway.

There’s a section about three minutes into ‘Lost on the Trail of the Setting Sun’ where the black metal chaos recedes for a moment, and the electric guitar is accompanied by the acoustic, before reaching a crescendo of a hugely powerful and soulful riffs and screams. The main reoccurring riff on this song is also super catchy. The following track ‘October 6, 1813′ might be my favourite on the album though. This is an entirely acoustic song, in the style of dark folk or neofolk bands, and the guitar passages in particular I found profoundly moving, conveying more than the band’s lyrics ever could.

What this album does so well is blend the metal and folk elements in a way that feels so natural you hardly even notice it. The metal sections don’t feel predictable or shoe-horned in for credibility, they feel like a natural extension of the ideas they’re drawing from. It’s not a particularly brutal or heavy form of black metal, having more in common with bands like Winterfylleth or Saor. The emphasis is more on atmosphere and melody, and this is definitely one of the album’s strengths. The tasteful clean singing feels passionate and raw, and the harsh vocals are fairly intelligible and give a nice contrast.

As for the second half of the album, it really is just one strong song after another. ‘Traversing the Shades of Death’ is a song of constant build-up, with beautiful acoustic melodies slowly morphing into an explosion of incredibly emotionally powerful overdriven guitars and almost whispered screams, as well as some much more chaotic black metal later on interspersed with lulls of calm in between. ‘Skimota’ is one of the neofolk tracks on this album and is definitely one of the highlights for me, it gets stuck in my head and the natural instruments have such a great sense of being grounded in the culture they’re describing. ‘Skyhook’ blends their black metal and folk sounds at once in a mostly instrumental song but which reaches huge, soaring heights after a lull before the storm half-way through. And on the sprawling final track ‘Kiselamakong’ Nechochwen take us through all of the various sides of their musical persona, from powerful acoustic melodies, searing black metal riffs, in a largely instrumental song that ends with a powerful spoken section that I encourage you to listen to for yourself.