For a long time, I’ve maintained that seeing bands you’re not aware of, is a great thing. In the past five years I’ve tried to catch at least one new band a week. Seeing more concerts than anyone I know doesn’t hurt, but every once and a while I stumble upon a group where I cannot describe their sound because they’re so unique in what they do. Houston’s Ak’chamel has always been my go to example of this. In over twenty live sets that I’ve witnessed by them, I’ve never seen them do the same thing twice. In fact, I’ve never seen the same band as some times there’s one person on stage and sometimes there’s as many as seven. The band seems to reinvent themselves with every outing and on every recording. Flanked in costume, they’re as intriguing as pure artistry gets. On their new album The Totemist, they change things up even more while still leaving anyone who hears them to wonder what’s next.
Here the band tears away their familiar lo-fi recordings in favor of a more traditional studio quality sound. They also reshape themselves, offering a mystical array of psych folk tones that takes the listener to an even more spiritual awakening. What isn’t gone is the group’s use of field recordings as well as their penchant for creating a vibe that feels like wandering minstrels in the desert. Across seven tracks that run under thirty-five minutes, Ak’chamel take you on a journey only they can create as well as to a place that only they can free you from.
The opening track “Firedriver” is a great example of this. The band’s use of Middle Eastern tones makes you feel like you’re witnessing the soundtrack to some sort of ceremony. There’s a wave of astral tone that’s bathed upon the song, taking you further away from reality with each passing note. By adding keys and changing direction, there’s a channeled spiritualism that takes you in and kidnaps your being. Ak’chamel continues this shaman like experience on “Protected By The Ejaculation of Serpents.” Is this a ceremonial burial, is it something sinister? There’s no way to tell which is what makes the music so extraordinary. Ak’chamel never lifts the veil of what’s happening, making what you hear a truly different experience for anyone who hears it.
While the band travels further into Middle Eastern graces on “To Travel The Path of Every Sickness,” and they offer a floral brightness on “I Am The Stone That Weighs Down The Earth,” the magic lies on “Phallus Palace.” The twelve minute song seems to contain so much, that you have to hear it twice to remember it all. The band utilizes cascades of instrumentation to evoke the sacred communion of their music. The woodwind touches that coexist with these stabs of various stringed instruments steer your mind away from today, and take you further from your current reality. If music is meant to take you to a new place, Ak’chamel achieves it with this album while the listener doesn’t have to leave their living room to do so.
Image Credits: Photo by Steve Balestreri.