There are myriad bands that explore the folklore and history of their native homeland, most notably groups that hail from the Scandinavian region and England. Not that America doesn’t have these types of bands—Panopticon certainly come to mind—but we don’t seem to boast the multitude of artists looking to shed light on American ancestry.
West Virginia natives Nechochwen are another who have delved into their and the country’s past and found inspiration for their work. Ideally nestled on the Bindrune Recordings roster (where they thoroughly, completely belong), the band has carved out a rustic style and following built as organically as their music. Their mix of American folk, Native American sounds, black metal, and classic heavy metal might not sound wholly unique, but the way Nechochwen blend these sounds is. They’ve been a favorite of mine for many years now (I came in right around the “Azimuths to the Underworld” record, and we rightfully praised their eclectic “Oto” in 2012), and their amazing fourth record “Heart of Akamon” was a high priority for us once we heard rumblings of its existence.
This entity has two primary members in the band’s namesake Nechochwen, who handles vocals, nylon and string guitars, hand drums, flute, and lalawas, and Pohonasin, who is on drums and bass. Live, the band has expanded even further as of late, as they took on Pandel Collaros and Amanda McCoy, and as “Akamon” has come into greater focus, the band tightened its grip on their mission. This record explores the band’s Ohio Valley homeland (before the arrival of European settlers), its rich history, spiritual elements, and even the violence that helped shape it, and it is unquestionably the best thing they’ve ever done. It’s a journey to find one’s place, while struggling to hold together the traditions and customs they hold dear. The record is easy to get lost inside of and have you revisit again and again on loop.
“The Serpent Tradition”—I’ll go ahead and say it, arguably the best song in the band’s history—attacks a few paces out of the gates. There is an acoustic opening that sets the stage, and then everything charges forward. Heavily. The vocals are monstrous, the melodies are gigantic, and all elements build toward a brief calm that dips back into chaos and premonitions of war. Some great dual guitar lines meet up and gallop power metal style, and then the song morphs again, chugging, unleashing killer solos, and winding up in a thrashy end. Holy shit, what a song! “The Impending Winter” made me feel the presence of just that, and it’s a quiet instrumental that has drum beats built in to add some kick. “Lost on the Trail of the Setting Sun” starts with the horrors of battle, but the type fought with muskets and face-to-face bloodshed. The song begins to burst, with creaky growls pushing and a dynamic riff blowing out. There are desperate cries, as the tempo hits hard and the line, “War is our burden, as we must survive,” hammers home the struggle. “Oct. 6, 1813” starts with strong acoustic progressions and clean singing, with Nechochwen solemnly observing “the sadness almost too great as they left his grave.” Woodwinds rise up, the playing rows even stronger, and the vow, “We will rise again,” gives the track its inspirational power.
“Traversing the Shades of Death” plods along with might, with a cold, dark ambience sweeping in and a strong, folk-style composition taking hold. Acoustics sweep in in waves, as guitars singe, the vocals come out as a mix of roars and growls, and the track sinks into murk. The fog slips over the more rustic parts, yet another assault of howls takes the song out. “Skimota” begins like an acoustic jam session that you almost can imagine emanating in front of a roaring, crackling fire. Later the guitars take on a sunburnt feel, with singing going from croon to yowl, and chimes and echoes standing as the last thing you hear. “Skyhook” is heavy and clubbing, yet it has an atmospheric backing as well. The guitars explore all over the place, delving into classic metal terrain that’s later visit by acoustic flourishes. Winds gust, the energy charges up again, and powerful, thunderous melodies bring the song to its end. Closer “Kiselamakong” feels like sheets of winter quietly blanketing the ground, but the guitars later warm up, causing a glow. Woodsy sounds emerge, leaving the air all smoky, and then the doom drops hard. The guitars stream over top everything, though the bottom end is both muddy and dreamy, and as dialog turns into full vocal expression, the track reaches its natural conclusion, and this incredible journey comes to an enthralling finish.
Once again, Nechochwen have knocked us over with their power, intensity, and passion, as “Heart of Akamon” sounds like a history lesson they actually lived through themselves. These eight songs are a reach back to the past, to a simpler time technologically, yet a place where the struggles were possibly greater than they are today. That fire and journey are alive in this record, and these are songs that feel like they’ll settle even closer to the heart once colder winds come and we try to find places to stay safe and warm.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nechochwen-Official/110325015754751
To buy the album, go here: http://eihwazrecordings.com/distro/
For more on the label, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.com/