West Virginia’s Nechochwen have been a favorite in Meat Mead Metal land for years and years now. Ultimately, when you meet folks who find out you put together a metal site, you get the nagging, “What bands do you recommend?”question. Nechochwen also is one of the bands that I bring up, and that is reinforced even further with their excellent third album “Heart of Akamon,” a record I have loved since day one. The band digs back into their Appalachian roots for sure, and you get a deep sense of folk (check out the acoustic parts and the presence of flutes, lalawas, and other elements) and the area’s history when digging into their music. On this one, they ratchet their intensity higher than ever before, hammering you with some of their finest compositions to date and offering a record that, if you’re like me, will leave an indelible impression on you for years to come.
The band doesn’t take long making their presence felt, opening with the thunderous “The Serpent Tradition,” one of the most enthralling songs in their entire catalog and a track that, if I was insane enough to compile a list of the best metal songs of the year, would get strong consideration for the to spot. It’s a thunderstorm that hovers over you and drives you into the ground. “Lost on the Trail of the Setting Sun” brings the horrors of war right front and center (the screams and wails are almost unbearable to witness) and crush your spirit; “Oct. 6, 1813” feels bruised and beaten but ultimately defiant; while closer “Kiselamahong” has the frost of winter frozen into its core, smoky, woodsy sentiments, and smothering doom that coats the white with soot. This is an amazing record front to back, one I cannot recommend highly enough.
Nechochwen were kind enough to answer some questions we had for them about this great, including why their origin region speaks so loudly to them, the meaning behind the record’s title, and the significance of some of the symbolism locked inside this record. Hails to them, and we hope for much more from the in the future.
MEAT MEAD METAL: We are naming “Heart of Akamon” one of our top five favorite releases of the year. We’ve been following Nechochwen for a while and could not believe how overwhelming the experience of this record was. How does it feel for you now that it’s been out in the universe for a while?
AARON CAREY: Thank you for this honor! We have been completely overwhelmed! We didn’t feel that the last two records caught on very much. This is not to say that fans weren’t supportive – they were – but our fan base has more than doubled in the past six months. To have this record out on two labels (Nordvis Produktion internationally) on two different countries has made a difference. It’s been very refreshing and encouraging to hear from people as far away as Angola, India, and Tasmania. A lot of Europeans are hearing us for the first time and talk to us often. So as we make music about native culture, we learn a lot about foreign cultures and languages too. I’ve learned a lot about other parts of the world this year, both from people I have met personally and people who have written to us. It has really opened my eyes. These year-end lists blew us away. I don’t think I’ve ever been on one! We are humbled by these many lists that people who are so passionate about metal are listening to it and getting something from it. It feels great.
MMM: Your music bears witness to and digs up the past of the Ohio and West Virginia regions, places geographically near to us as well. What is it about this area that strikes so close to your hearts that it fuels your creativity?
AC: Heritage. Whether someone has native roots or not, this is a huge part of our heritage here and everywhere else in the Americas. We’ve never lived outside of this region. Neither of us has. We are so rooted to this place, and most of our life experiences have been here. Each generation before us in our families that we’ve known in our lives also lived here. It’s like a micro-culture. I can’t drive anywhere or hike or whatever without picturing in my mind what this area looked like a thousand years ago or more. It’s like an obsession for my mind to picture this all the time even though it’s impossible to ever actually see it this way. I’m proud of our heritage here, and we are both fascinated by our history. There is an endless supply of interesting things to write about here. 17,000 years of history is right in our backyards.
MMM: The title “Heart of Akamon,” what is the meaning behind that and why was it appropriate for representing these songs?
AC: Akamon is a very old Moundbuilder era word that means something like wilderness; the original place. For me, this is how I view my area; I try to look past the modern structures, the dammed rivers, power lines, and cities and see what it was like long ago. After a while, especially when spending time in nature, I started to realize that this is still the same land. It looks different, but if you slow down and pay attention, it’s very much the same in some respects. The events that occurred here and the distinct landscape are very inspiring to us, and the title is a sign of reverence and respect for us. We feel lucky to have grown up here; we feel we were born in the very heart of Akamon, the heart of the wilderness.
MMM: I can’t get over the opener “The Serpent Tradition.” It feels like the most immediate, heart-crushing songs in the band’s catalog. I think it’s one of Nechochwen’s best. Expand on that track a little bit.
AC: Thank you for saying that. It was written about a Shawnee prophecy. It stated that a serpent would come from the sea to destroy the People. When the European ships first arrived on the Atlantic coast, with their pennants flapping in the wind, this was interpreted like a serpent’s forked tongue – the symbolic serpent of the prophecy. They knew from seeing this that it marked the beginning of catastrophic events, and they were correct.
This was one of the first two songs we recorded for this album, and the new elements we had added to our sound were really exciting and refreshing. I started using a high-end 8-string guitar for rhythm guitars and a 6-string with a Floyd Rose for the lead. We also went completely back to tube amps and will from now on, also. Some of these ideas had been around for a while and others, like the ending parts, were written in the studio in about 15 minutes. I was much happier with the vocals, both in the lyrics and with vocal approaches, than our previous albums. The opening part, the acoustic beginning and heavy riff it builds into, are ideas I’ve had since around the time that the “Oto” album was being written.
MMM: I’ve tried hard to ascertain the significance of “Oct. 6, 1813,” and maybe I’m just terrible at Googling. What is at the heart of that song? I assume there is some sort of thing that must be overcome and/or conquered with the calls of, I hear, “We will rise again.”
AC: Most of what we write about probably isn’t able to be Googled. The line is actually ‘’Okiima rise again.” Many people misinterpret this. ‘Okiima means “chief.” It’s about the wish for Tecumseh to rise again after his death in battle the day before.
I think the best description I could use is paraphrased from the album’s liner notes: Tecumseh was one of the most revered, respected, and cherished leaders in American Indian history. As a powerful war chief, he urged all Indians to return to the traditional, pre-Columbian way of life his ancestors had known. Tecumseh formed a far-reaching confederacy of tribes through his charisma, brilliant oratory skills in multiple languages, and his almost supernatural prophetic sensibilities. The tribes he united, many of which were ancestral enemies, resisted western expansion and gave hope to many war-weary nations. His confederacy collapsed after he was killed at the Battle of the Thames in Ontario. October 6, 1813 is actually the day after Tecumseh was killed, and was, according to many sources, when he was buried in a secret location. The lament presented on this album was inspired by the late author Allan W. Eckert’s depiction of the interment of Tecumseh, great ‘Okiima of the Šawaanwaki, in the hopes that someday he will rise again and lead his People once more.
MMM: I can’t help but think that much of this record is going to sound ideal once winter’s elements arrive. Especially with songs such as “Kiselamakong” and … well … “The Impending Winter.” Do some of these songs have icy bones, or is that just a singular listener experience?
AC: I’d originally hoped for an early summer release so that people would first get acquainted with it while they are out driving around in good weather, hiking, camping, etc., but I think the release date was fine too; late summer/early fall is a time I associate with some of my favorite albums.
“The Impending Winter” definitely had a creepy, cold vibe that I thought musically expressed the seriousness of preparing for winter. Cold is creeping in, and you need to gather what you need, work on tools, get your winter house ready, etc. “Kišelamakong,” I see this a bit differently. The event that inspired it occurred in late April a few years ago. The slow doom riff that churns throughout the second half of the song came to me when I was cutting my grass in the summer! It may be a singular listening experience. Remember that these songs can mean anything they end up meaning to you. We never intended for the non-historical songs to represent any specific seasonal framework. Feel the songs how you feel them. Art should be open for interpretation. I’m glad you feel this way about them; it means the songs are not limited by origin or by my own intent. I never really thought about this before.
MMM: What does the band have planned for the future? I’m sure it’s too early to think new music (or not). But do you have live events planned? Anything else?
AC: We have work to do in other areas in the immediate future – the debut Coldfells album (the recording commences on January 2, 2016), a new release by End (a Greek black metal band that I do vocals for), and a classical guitar album I’m working on. As far as Nechochwen is concerned, we have a special project that we haven’t discussed with the public. It’s not even started yet, so I’ll wait to talk about it until we’re further along with it. We’d also like to release an EP before too long since we have such long gaps between albums. I’d like to avoid an EP just being leftovers from the previous album – I usually hate those kind of EPs and sometimes they seem like a waste of time. I’d like it to be a short album that flows as well as a longer album. This is what I’m hoping for, an enjoyable, flowing short release that doesn’t take three years to make. We don’t currently have any more live events planned. We will probably do this sporadically when the conditions are right for us, but we’ve always had the intent to just record music. Thank you again for the honor. MMM has been very kind to us. Please look for more from Nechochwen in the future!
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nechochwen-Official/110325015754751
For more on the label, go here: http://eihwazrecordings.com/distro/
To buy the album, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.com/