Akhlys is a side project of Nightbringer guitarist Naas Alcameth (because a pseudonym is cooler than being a black metal artist named Kyle Spanswick). When first putting ears on sophomore effort The Dreaming I, this appears so close to the better-known band as to make the solo project seem superfluous, which wouldn’t be anything new for side or solo efforts; it happens. Even the cover art looks eerily similar to that of Ego Dominus Tuus if you blur your vision a little.
But dig a bit deeper, and some unique vibes begin to emerge. A bit less Emperor here, a tad more SMRC-era Deathspell Omega there, and you get The Dreaming I. This is swirling, complex stuff that both manifests and dwells within a suffocating, immense atmosphere. It’s huge, unsettling, and yet often incredibly melodic, with heaps of textured vocals, fluttering riffs, and ludicrously fast drum work completing the sound. (The latter are performed by someone named Ain, the only other member of the band.)
The album is at its best when it embraces the slow burn – if not necessarily the slow music – such as throughout the nearly 17 minute “Consummation.” Here the atmosphere is pushed to its absolute peak, as if acrid fumes are continually pumped around every wailing lead, churning half-time section, and moment of chilling resolution. It’s also a cool of bit of songwriting, rarely shifting dramatically or suddenly, rather choosing to change subtly and gradually within each musical element, a technique that results in the song’s immense length feeling shorter.
That said, the album is not always so successful with its pacing. When counting various intros and outros, there are well over 10 minutes that do next to nothing. Sure, black metal has long employed the Non-Metal Track to enhance the drama and pomp, but to work these moments have to actually do something. Most of this material on The Dreaming I is just dead space, with only a few minutes of it even adding some haunting chants. This results in the album feeling quite a bit longer than its actual 45 minutes, even as so much of it is flying by at nutso speeds.
This is unfortunate, as the majority of The Dreaming I is absolutely scorching, and such album construction pitfalls are easily avoided with a little editing. Still, it’s far from a fatal mistake, and those in the target audience will find these faults more than forgivable when they are firmly in the grips of that malevolent, unrelenting aura.