Friday, August 2, 2013

Akyrviron - Light Of The Ages (2013)

Imagine, if you can, Blind Guardian without Hansi K├╝rsch holding the mic. Stratovarius, with no soaring vocals. Nightwish, with no vocal harmonies. It's hard to imagine bands in the power/folk/symphonic realm without that layer, or layers, of clean singing to round out the entire mix. We've seen countless bands forgo that slot in favor of an extra guitar, keyboard, or other second tier instrument, but rarely, if ever, in this manner. Kevin Partier, who is the sole member of Oregon based Akyrviron, won't apologize or conform; vocals have no place in this project, and he is satisfied with that choice. He isn't anti-vocals. A future side project could involve a single, male or female. But it just doesn't fit what he wants to do with this name, and this album. It is less his decision to exclude a singer, and more in the way he masks it that stands apart from all the rest. And with the release of "Light Of The Ages" earlier this year, h showed there is more than one way to skin a frontman; and he may have found the right way.

With the opening track, the two minute "Celestial Return" Partier makes a deliberate and intense statement; this music is all about atmospherics and spacial relations. The sweeping orchestral melodies and pulsing drum beats are at the forefront, for all to hear. When the blaring of horns transitions into the gallop of programmed drums on "Infinite Sky," they move even farther into your field of vision. The sheer amount of different instruments being folded into the mix would be impressive enough. But without the aide of a vocal line of any kind, those subtle touches of synthesizers and plucked guitar strings becomes all the more important. The result is a song that straddles the line between folk and power metal, a rarefied air that few can really survive in. But with his programming at surgically precise levels, and his mixing skills obviously above average, Partier pounds, bends, and shreds his way through seven high octane minutes. That sense of majesty flows right into "Eternal Bond," which is the beneficiary of several thumping bass blasts. Slower and more sweeping at it's inception, it opens up into a far more broad piece, one that would be right at home on any disc labeled Blind Guardian. As important as each singular instrument is, it might be the piano work that helps round out a perfectly tuned mix.

The subtle changes in tone from track to track should not fall on deaf ears, and the shift as you enter "Deathless One" is a prime example. While the lack of vocals rarely becomes noticeable, thanks to creative space and instrumental management, their absence gives this song in particular a different kind of spin. Whether it finds a home in a movie score or video game, there is undoubtedly a fantasy aspect to it that should not be allowed to go to waste. Yet, as the bridge enters, it conjures up imagery of the perfect arena metal show, with the entire audience clapping to the beat. Combinations like that make it unique, and interludes like "Somber Mists" make it more beautiful. The light patter of raindrops and plucking of a digital harp paint a bright, yet sobering picture. And while it may seem tame compared to some of the massive soundscapes displayed earlier in the album, "Raindrifter" does the lion's share of the work when it comes to closing the album on a fitting note. Vocal free, it means that the air of triumph and closure is entirely up to the instrumental, something Partier takes on with great aplomb. His attention to detail is key, as he packs the left and right channels with a plethora of instruments and layered sounds.

Some genres of music seem to get a pass on vocals, while others are unfairly targeted. We've all sat down and digested a post-rock or post-metal album that had no vocal component, spoken or otherwise. And when done right, it can be a magical experience. But the idea of a folk or power metal act foregoing a soaring voice or delicate spoken word seems foreign and scary. Admittedly, it would be normal to be apprehensive about the result. But Kevin Partier has done more than enough for you to put those fears to bed. He hasn't replaced that singing element with the use of a guitar lead or orchestration. He has merely asserted that it wasn't necessary to begin with. And through these six tracks, you rarely, if ever, miss it. That says a lot about the structure and meticulous attention to detail that the Akyrviron project will soon become synonymous with. But in the meantime, don't expect a singer to be introduced to this moniker any time soon. When asked via his Facebook page whether he had considered adding a vocalist to his tracks, Partier simply responded, "Not for any Akyrviron songs." Good choice.


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