NECHOCHWEN – Kanawha Black (2022)REVIEW

Sentimentality, kindly indicated as a divining sense rooted in intuition and empathy, is perhaps the best way to describe the goal of Nechochwen or vocalist/guitarist Aaron Carey‘s (Coldfells, Forest of the Soul) in-quest of his own suggested First nations heritage by way of progressive pagan/folk metal duo Nechochwen, though it seems part of this thought was also a way to market his quite skilled interest in classical guitar technique of a certain mood. I’m not sure that any of this had (or has since) anything to do with actual Algonquin music, most of which involves communal percussion, song, and dance with specific purpose, but rather the artist’s interpretation of his own journey and imagined scenes by way of modern (yet not contemporary) European traditions of classical guitar performance as evidenced by Nechochwen‘s debut (‘Algonkian Mythos‘, 2008). Much has changed since then and as we receive their latest full-length, ‘Kanawha Black‘, it is important to seek context within the greater work of an artist concerned with historicity and their own personal/spiritual point of awakening.

Consider Nechochwen‘s musical trajectory as a quasi reverse-Ulver to start in moving from this neofolk-adjacency (see: ‘Azimuths to the Underworld‘, 2010) with a few sprays of extreme metal influence to a largely pagan metal band with a natural black metal/folk interlude format in irregular alternation by the time their third full-length (‘Heart of Akamon‘, 2015) released. This record was a big deal at the time as an anticipated release beyond Panopticon‘s ‘Roads to the North‘ and Obsequiae‘s ‘Aria of Vernal Tombs‘ each band more-or-less bearing a similar pagan-melodic verve in their modus while incorporating themes which were imaginative and influential for their time. I’d been a fan of this record when it release and today naturally assume the general buzz that’d surround ‘Kanawha Black‘ comes from the extended space between full-lengths, the band having hemmed their finer details and performances here for some years whilst emptying their archival recordings in the meantime.

Before I begin to miss the point and get lost in a variously distracting rant upon the subject matter — Yes, this is a fine follow-up to ‘Heart of Akamon‘ which goes above and beyond their previous work by way of incorporating more outright heavy metal gusto, more directly swinging guitar music, and even a few strikes into atmospheric/extreme doom metal for a distinctly melodic and somewhat progressive pagan metal album which charms throughout. The pacing is beautifully set, the recording fantastically rendered within an unreal sort of chasmic space, and the performances truly emphasize just what a talent Carey and decades-long compatriot Andrew D’Cagna (Icarus Witch, Ironflame) comprise when working together.

Always a cynic and having been under the spell of a “pretendian” grandfather, whose ethnic fraudulence embarrassed my own family over the course of three decades, I’ve little trust for folks claiming to be First nations (an old and still-prevalent grift within mystic/new age guru-ism and among scholars) without their waving a membership card, I do yet appreciate the perspective draw which the animism of culturally fascinated art/self-exploration brings. With an eye upon indigenous culture latent guilt and/or glorification of history (i.e. historical fiction) does ultimately turn to empathy-as-entertainment at the very least. This is less of a concern as we step into Nechochwen‘s world of late which, in terms of subject matter addresses the spiritual rather than the anthropological (or, historical even) wherein placement into scene involving indigenous perspective is still the crux or, the main point of view intended with ‘Kanawha Black‘ but focusing more on ‘bigger picture’ implications of a fantasy narrative rooted in real places. The greater takeaway I’d settled on here is, I suppose, plain as day enough between the title and cover imagery, with the fire-starter (black chert) mined from the land serving as symbolic artifact of the land’s character rooting an ancient civilization, the broader existential implications and details being realized in scenes of subsistence and survival.

At the very least we do not have to listen to audio clips of the war scenes from I Will Fight No More Forever (1975) while black metal plays, eh. In fact ‘Kanawha Black‘ hardly spends a moment touching upon accoutrement or indigenous musical signifiers as its major focus throughout, with only a few modern folk guitar breaks appearing rather than full-on interludes and all manner of excess and overstatement found on ‘Heart of Akamon‘ excised for the sake of an addictive repeat listen that settles up at around ~40 minutes in length. We find an evolution with precedence in past works within certain pieces on the album (“Generations of War”, “I Can Die But Once”) and there are various atmospheric details to glean from more concerted listening but the major effect of cracking open this latest Nechochwen record is a barrage of sublimely spirited melodic black metal, thoughtfully arranged from start to finish.

It’d been overwhelming to consider standout pieces here since it all works so well in its chosen running order, with the commanding landscape depicted within title track/album opener already selling me from the start and the progression of “The Murky Deep” managing classic-yet-contemporary folk/black metal in the best possible way. The obvious standout for my own taste is certainly “A Cure for the Winter Plagues”, a mountain of unearthly doom which I’d encourage much more of in the future even considering the steadfast roll of brilliancies found elsewhere on ‘Kanawha Black‘, its roll into the equally impressive peak of “Visions, Dreams, and Signs” makes for the strongest ~11 minutes or so of the full listen for my taste.

Kanawha Black‘ is first and foremost a pleasure to listen to, a fine set of black/folk metal songs that hold up well to all manner of repeat listening and shrewd scrutiny when it comes time to hash the details and figure the lasting impact of the greater work done. The value of scenic depiction cannot be understated here, wherein immersion and various personification manages great dramatism without resorting to any too-obvious or drawn-out signifier, making for a solemn yet inspired work that is easily and fondly remembered. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Kanawha Black
LABEL(S):Bindrune Recordings
RELEASE DATE:May 13th, 2022

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