Volahn - Aq'Ab'Al
Iron Bonehead Productions
Black metal
6 songs (58:19)
Release year: 2015
Reviewed by Charles
Wow, what a pretty, pretty album cover! Dare I say, one of the prettiest black metal covers I have ever seen. Also a useful signpost, leaving us in no doubt that this project is associated with the so-called ‘Black Twilight Circle’ from (um, I think) Southern California- for whom Mayan and Aztec mythology is a recurrent motif. Indeed, Volahn himself is a core member, having also featured in approximately 368 groups associated with the same scene. Anyway, this was one of the projects that stood for me out on the recent Worship Black Twilight compilation; no mean feat because that was a double album filled with obscure gems (though most of all I am still hoping to hear more from the enigmatic Kaxun Suum).

The sound on A’Ab’Al is highly distinctive, and demonstrates quite a particular vision. Tracks are is (usually) fast, loose and spontaneous-sounding. There are lots sudden jerks characterising song structures, intent on prodding and jabbing at the complacent listener. We also get lots of jangly treble guitar, which reminds me a little of Negative Plane, and it gives a sense of cackling whimsy to many of the riffs. This is compounded by the quirky, some might say ungainly character of the latter. They are often bizarrely elongated, zigzagging awkwardly, frequently seeming about to trip over themselves but for the cementing power of Murdunbad’s excellent drumming. So see, for example, opener Najtir Ichik; a clammy and feverish tirade of twanging guitar lines which disperse suddenly and bloody-mindedly into sweatily melodic sections. Or Bonampak, with its ungainly time signatures and haphazard melodic shapes. There’s also a synth, which can give a strangely graceful, almost light, feel to tracks like Halhi K’ohba.

Anyway, one thing that is odd here is the use of atmospherics. Sometimes the album comes across as obtuse and introverted, like the flute warbling and meandering faded-out acoustic guitar at the end of Bonampak, which channels the wilfully obscure likes of Blood of the Black Owl. See also Quetzalcoatl. I was decided that these contemplative elements were a bit unconvincing, until Koyopa turned up, which in my view is the real album centrepiece. This is genuinely majestic: a true black metal ballad to rival the best of Dissection and the like. Lots of lovely melody, alternating with fierce storms of twangling treble lead guitar. It also has a very memorable melodic climax: once again the spindly lead melody is awkward and elongated, but this makes it more charming if anything: strangely delicate and teetering, like much of the rest of album. Worth a listen.

Killing Songs :
Koyopa, Najtir Ichik
Charles quoted 78 / 100
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