Originally written by Jordan Campbell
Yet another intimately-crafted project under the increasingly esteemedBindrune banner, Nechochwen is a nakedly honest folk entity. While the folk metal tag has taken on a Kryptonite-esque connotation for some, this is as far from the status quo as it gets. Certain European purveyors have become veritable clowncars of frivolties (warpaint, alehorns, etc.), whereasNechochwen‘s music is totally free of gimmicks…or any European influence whatsoever. This distinct, acoustic-based entity is steeped in Native American history, and Azimuths to the Otherworld is one of the purest pieces of Western folk music the metal world will ever experience.
My introduction to Nechochwen was an unwitting encounter at Heathen Crusade 3 in 2008, when it existed as a solo project of Aaron Carey (Angelrust, ex-Harvist). On the second day, in a lull between sets, Carey perched himself on a stool in the corner of the bar. With a woefully tacky Pabst Blue Ribbon sign (and a dome hockey table) as his backdrop, he played a brief acoustic set–sans vocals–as various diehards and LARPers crashed the bar and clamored for refills. Amidst the commotion, a few began to take a genuine interest in his performance.
At the next break, he took his stool again–this time, the bar traffic was tempered, as he was beginning to draw a crowd. This set was just as brief as the first, but it garnered an enthusiastic response. By his third and final set, a small cabal of metalheads had gathered around him– sitting crosslegged, like obedient kindergarteners at storytime–in amazement and respect of the combination of dexerity and honesty on display. I was among this group. We were fuckin’ enthralled, officially rendering an acoustic performance the highlight of a two-day metalfest. (Well, breaking my neck to Inquistion‘s pitch-black riffstorm was pretty rad, too, but that’s a story for another day.)
The point of this anecdote? Well, it’s proof that despite an overt un-metalness, Nechochwen‘s music was not only a welcome respite from our typical fare, but was just as cerebrally engaging, if not moreso. And withAzimuths to the Otherworld, Carey has bridged this increasingly-minor stylistic gap quite admirably. Now a two-man unit, Nechochwen has added significant metalllic structure, and they waste little time in stating this. The crunching distortion and surprising blastbeats on opener “Allumhammochwen – The Crossing” raise eyebrows, and the accompanied harsh vocals arch them even higher towards the hairline. Worry etches it’s way into the skin. Has Nechochwen morphed into a black metal band? And a terribly standard one, at that? Aside from a nice stomp riff that signposts the chorus–and an uplifting solo at the six-minute mark–Nechochwen: Electric Edition does little to impress.
Fortunately, this foray into mediocrity is extremely short-lived. The second track, “At Night I May Roam,” is quite beautiful. Containing the lush, finger-picked guitar work that we bought the ticket for, it also contains a glorious vocal harmony that truly sets the stage for the album to come. According to the band, Azimuths to the Otherworld‘s compositions are based on the indiginous peoples’ construction of burial mounds and effigies as a means of providing safe passage for the dead to said ‘Otherworld.’ “At Night I May Roam” nails that vibe almost instantly. “Gississ Mikana” continues a journey into the unavoidably Opethian waters of “Red Ocher,” a welcome and familiar bath for those that may be wary of exploring an album so distant from the trodden path.
From here, drums and electrified swells are used solely for climactic purposes, and to impressive effect. And while these crescendoes are stunning, the understated acoustic renderings tend to shine the brightest. “Graves of Grandeur” is gently somber and lilting, eventually pushed over the cliff of darkness by a delicate piano. “Nomeatha, You Are the Ghost in the Water” is absolutely heart-rending, as naked and soulful as anything in recent memory. And “Four Effigies” is all nimble n’ dextrous acoustics for about six minutes, before dropping jaws with with some sky-stretching, gloriously reverb’d lead work.
That hypnotic soloing bleeds into the title track, which also marks a triumphant return of robust, slightly blackish metallics. It’s an appropriate, impactful close to an amazing journey. Azimuths to the Otherworld is far from typical: it’s largely acoustic, mostly instrumental, and its subject matter is heretofore untouched in the realm of heavy metal. That last aspect makes Nechochwen worth investigating; the conviction and skill with which it’s delivered makes them worth revering. Expertly conceived and incredibly accessible, this is not simply a diversion from the norm for the skull-crackers out there. As a sweeping, folk metal opus, Azimuths to the Otherworld belongs on everyone’s ever-growing must-hear list in 2010.