Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Akroma - Seth (2009) 75/100.

Back with their sophomore full-length ‘Seth’, Akroma are a conceptually and musically brilliant five-piece band from France. However, they’re not without their problems. As I expressed on my review for their debut, entitled ‘Sept’, an album which concentrated on the seven deadly sins -- whereas this album concentrates on the 10 plagues of Egypt -- the band have a problem with the vocal department. While the occasional female vocals are fine and justified amidst some beautiful, sultry instrumentation, Alain’s unusual screams, which are akin to that of vocalists Justin Hill and Mikee W. Goodman of the technically gifted defunct British band Sikth, sound out of place and out of their depth. Although I’ve only heard Sikth’s debut album, ‘The Trees Are Dead and Dried Out, Wait for Something Wild’, and although I haven’t heard it in some time, I was instantly reminded of the array of vocals used on that album when I heard Alain blast out his passionate vocals on the debut and even more so on this sophomore, especially on songs like ‘Les Grenouilles’.

The vocals transported me back to my teenage years when everything left such a huge impression on me. Perhaps back then in my naïve state I could have enjoyed these vocals and taken something positive away from them, but they utterly ruin the atmosphere on the album. Even the infrequent use of female vocals, as on songs like ‘Les Taons’, which come in a cleanly spoken form and an eloquently sung form from Lulu, I’d imagine. All lyrics appear to be in French, but given the interesting conceptual themes, these warrant being translated for those of us who don’t speak French. The fresh take on lyrics is definitely a positive because far too many bands in the black metal genre constrict themselves to typical themes, rather than being open minded in the way which Akroma are. The album also includes the occasional use of cleanly spoken male vocals, though this is a rarity. These male spoken parts add more than the entire screamed section of vocals which, to be honest, isn’t difficult. The vocals are truly horrendous and hamper the good work of the instrumentation which is quirky enough without the inclusion of overbearing, tediously delivered screams. The compositions themselves are dynamic enough by themselves, so do us a favour and get rid of the vocalist!

His eccentric style isn’t required when the instrumentation provides enough brilliance in the eccentricity department on songs like ‘Les Moustiques’ which, with the creepy break in instrumentation and zombie-esque grunts, remind me of classic horror movies like Night of the Living Dead when the recently deceased return to life to haunt the living. The vocals certainly create an impacting atmosphere, but nowhere near to the extent that the instrumentation has on me. The vocals don’t seem warranted when the combined efforts of the guitars and keyboards create such a stunning backdrop for the interesting lyrical themes supplied by both the male and female vocals, though this latter element is in sparse supply. On songs like ‘Les Moustiques’ his unique style of singing can sometimes obscure the brilliance of the instrumentation, which is refreshing and refined, unlike his excruciating screams. In terms of the actual instrumentation, not an awful lot has changed. ‘Seth’ like ‘Sept features a lot of the same techniques along the way. The sophomore isn’t exactly a more mature effort. It’s just different given the nature of the concept behind the music.

The occasional female vocals are applied to the slower sections of instrumentation, as shown delicately on ‘La Peste du Bétail’. These tend to be omitted as soon as the guitars tend to pick up the pace, as they do on this song which some wonderful riffing as the bass works its magic beneath the guitars. The male vocals on this song in particular, though they don’t intend to do so, demonstrate what can be achieved with technically great instrumentation because, as much as humanly possible, I tried to drive the vocals out of my mind and forget they even existed. They’re truly that horrible. However, given the technical prowess of the band, the vocals can only do so much harm. With each song featuring one, or two neat solos, the instrumentation showcases its own abilities beneath the vocal displays by Alain. The bass is as well very neatly worked within the songs and the keyboards don’t staple too much of a symphonic sound over the top of the bass, drums and guitars.

In fact, during most songs, the keyboards are somewhat buried. Occasionally, as on songs like ‘Les Ulcères’, the keyboards do take over in the form of a beautiful piano sound but, mostly, they linger in the background in the form of subtle symphonies which increase the delicacy of the atmospherics with the help of the bass and other additions like the female vocals. I was hoping for a more worldly feel to the music, given the fact that the album centres around another nations troubles in the form of the plagues of Egypt, but there isn’t much in the way of material that sounds like it could have been composed by an Egyptian band. The sound itself is still very similar to that on the debut, though it does tend to decrease the black metal influence and sound more akin to the extreme metal genre through its use of progressive structures, varied vocals, acoustics and broad keyboards. Alain’s harsh vocals are seemingly the only real black metal element, though these aren’t exactly typical of the black metal genre. So, as with the debut, the instrumentation is fantastic, but the male vocals, even though they do vary on occasions, are absolutely atrocious. Good, but could have been so much better.

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