Monday, October 10, 2011

Akribi - Black Morning Sun (2011)

There are no rules to music. No one can ever say something is right or wrong, a fact that Akribi states very clearly on their website. They even go as far as quoting the great Duke Ellington, who said "If it sounds good, it is good." There is no argument there. But the question is, who gets to decide what sounds good? The band put their musical theory to the test on their album "Black Morning Sun," which may be fodder for many a thesis, review or discussion. Full of wandering melodies and disjointed fragments, this may make Mr. Ellington rethink his original thought.

The album opens with a flash, as "Puppies Of War" takes hold of you. The high speed attack of drums and guitar is an eye opener, leading into some strong keyboards, akin to a Dream Theater jam session. The production work is clear, until, that is, the vocals enter. Lacking the sort of clarity and strength necessary to complete the track, things take an odd turn. Even as the musicianship remains strong, twisting and turning through verse and chorus, the vocals seem to suck some of the air out of things. Frontwoman Jessica Ahman can't seem to find a home, hovering somewhere between clean and operatic vocals, but not filling either role particularly well. "Where The Water Meets The Sky" succeeds on a number of musical levels, though it falls short on the fundamentals. The bass line is well crafted, placed alongside some delicate piano work. However, the track stretches for an exhausting nine minutes, which seems to be four or five minutes longer than it deserves. The band fall into a common trap, spending too much time on solos that simply add little to the track as a whole. The keyboard solo mid way through is overreaching, to a point that nearly stops the song dead in its tracks.

The next track, "Surface" is where the album takes a decidedly hard turn. Clean guitars echo through the intro, but are simply squashed as Jessica enters with a voice that is equal parts dull and out of place. It is followed immediately by a quick burst of keyboard that brings to mind an old Nintendo midi. This melody seems to come and go, thankfully. But alternating periods of guitar wizardry and oddly toned keyboard parts forces the track off of any sort of path, and into the deepest forests of meandering metal. It becomes less of a song, and more of a patchwork quilt of ideas. Then we have "Angel Kiss," which is a song that follows its name down the road of ballads past. The rumbling lows accompany a solemn piano, setting the scene for arguably the best vocal performance of the album. The more down tempo music seems to fit Jessica's talents best. That is to say, something far less "metal" and far more "show tunes." As you sit back and soak it in, you may wake to realize that you are, in fact, lost in the world of Dirty Dancing or Footloose.

The rock returns on "Blue Clay" allowing a dynamic bass line to lead the way, joined soon after by the sizzle of cymbals, and a bit of much needed distortion. Even the keyboards take a heavier turn, making this one more progressive than the previous four, including some brilliantly off-time drum beats. This is a darker jam, changing pace and time signature several times through the arc of the song. A well placed and masterfully played set of solos fires through. Piano first, in a jazz/blues style that oddly fits so well. Guitar next, blazing up and down the neck in a flurry of notes that set the track ablaze, just in time for the conclusion. There is certainly a somber tone to "Carry The Rain," carrying a weight that seems to finally bring Jessica's voice to life. She finds her strength, projecting her lower register. The crunching of guitars emerges amidst the thumping drums. But a familiar issue remains. The track is simply too long, becoming more filler than fire. This song would be a dream for up and coming producers, with so many clear lines to be drawn as to what stays and goes. But instead, they leave it all in, padding out more than nine minutes of musical folly.

The two shortest songs on the album follow, with both being mercifully under the four minute mark. "Wither And Die" is an odd mixture of seventies prog keyboards and a vocal performance that brings to mind elements disco, blues classic R&B. This is one that may stick with you for days, though whether you consider that good or bad remains to be seen. "The Plains Of Nevermore" more straight forward, with keys and piano coming together in a beautiful harmony, layered with Jessica in a ballad of sunstance. There is no denying the talents of keyboardist Andreas Tiberto. That aside, the band returns to form on "The Sum Of It All," which is, more or less, a brilliant instrumental that is clouded by vocals. This is a showcase of all the members and their individual talents, from the thunder of drums to the shaking bass. But the singing does nothing for the track, with poor choices of timing and tone coming into play far too often. The title track is the finale, with "Black Morning Sun" trying to guide you to the end. Half ballad, half bravado, this one is indicative of all of the failures and victories the album has to offer. 

An album with this many twists and turns is often described as "eclectic" or even "refreshing." But unfortunately, Akribi falls short in the most meaningful ways, failing to create an album that has both substance and form. Each track feels like multiple ideas, jammed together for the sake of padding out one track instead of providing three shorter ones. They lack flow, a true concept of cohesion. Each musical victory is cancelled out by a trip and fall. Whether it be a track that is simply too long, or a vocal melody that falls flat, "Black Morning Sun" may lead those same puppies of war to revolt.


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