As classy and endearing as Midwest humility can be, it was awfully shocking to drop into a huge, moving psychedelic doom record like the self-titled debut from Columbus, Ohio’s Akula with no expectations built. I know Lo-Pan from a Torche tour back in like 2013-ish but how their key member’s anthemic stoner rock affect would mesh with pronounced influence from the semi-epic scale of bands like Yob and Neurosis had me scratching my head. Established musicians branch out into various sub-genre specific side-projects all the time and often with disastrously amateur or ‘hey, you missed the point, man.’ results. Expectations were nonexistent. None of these theme-hopping ills ail Akula by virtue of simple concept containing largely unrestrained and complex composition that meanders into naturally immersive progression. The generated effect has more in common with epic doom metal than their atmospheric sludge/post-metal inspiration but still retains the ruggedly dramatic aesthetic of that vein without the rigid structures of classic doom metal.
There is certain chemistry between Lo-Pan members Chris Thompson (guitars) and Jeff Martin (vocals) and they appear as the driving force for the four tracks, averaging about ten minute apiece, that make up ‘Akula’. As a debut Akula‘s first deep inhale of life has the polished, ‘out of nowhere’ feeling of a side-project coming from professionals. Little stylistically unites the collective member’s past-and-present projects with sludge (Bridesmaid), thrash (Artillery Breath), black/death metal (Locusta) and progressive metal (Sleepers Awake) all appearing or disappearing in the last decade. The shortest conceptual gap is felt between Akula and Thompson‘s other quasi-progressive/post-metal project (where he also sings) Sleepers Awake. The aim of ‘Akula’ appears to have been guided by records like Yob‘s ‘The Illusion of Motion’ for the slow motion understated grooves and extended song lengths but the guitar work references Mastodon-relevant transitional riffs semi-regularly (“A Pound of Flesh”).
Neither noted influences nor past works can begin to thoughtfully describe Akula‘s sound because it is so beautifully driven by Martin’s vocals. There are few reasonable comparisons in epic doom metal or psychedelic doom and his performances are a major point of interest even within these long-ranting, twisted prog-sludge/post-doom/etc. compositions; Martin‘s ability to insert himself into every song so adeptly in creating a gloomy, but not entirely listless mood produces what I’d consider the highly performance of the record. The shoegazing moodiness of this debut helps that soaring vocal performance appear relevant within both the Candlemass-worshiping sects and prog-doom/psych rock moderne a la 40 Watt Sun or Pallbearer. There is some great versatility shown here thanks to the reference point of Lo-Pan as Akula represent a fair leap of concept and style but appear no less professionally crafted or engaging.
Though the experience is emotive, driving, and complex in its rhythms I feel that Akula‘s melodic sense has the effect of your average (recent) Primordial record where I am so captivated in the moment but quickly forget the arc of any melody within a day or two. That is no ping to the quality of the songwriting but ‘Akula’ flails its charming snake-like body convincingly enough to inspire many listens that leave no great dent in my mind. I value transfixion as much as memorability but always hope for both when attempting to cement forward thinking metal-relevant releases in my mind and needed just a bit more to stick with this album. Akula‘s curiously accessible prog/psych/post-doom debut comes with style and substance well worthy of pursuit. ‘Akula’ is remarkable as a debut and comes with a moderately high recommendation.
Effigy lights a cruel road. 3.75/5.0
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