Is Ak’chamel good, evil, or somewhere in between? The dense religious fervor of the Texas trio’s latest album seems to suggest the latter, although prior incarnation Ak’chamel, the Giver of Illness veered heavily to the dark side. The trio wears masks and robes in concert, and their last album, Fucking With Spirits, seemed to violate the cardinal rule of horror films. It does not matter how dark one is, ONE SHOULD NOT FUCK WITH SPIRITS. I did warn them via email, and strangely enough, their new album does tone it down a bit. While it’s not quite what one would call “holy”, it’s definitely respectful, awash in chanting choirs and organ tones. The tone underlines an ironic point: in order to be anti-religious, one must be fascinated, even obsessed, with religion. One track even references a Bible passage: “Death Has Been Swallowed Up In Victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54, typically quoted on Easter and at Christian funeral services).
While the name may have changed, the overall sound remains the same: ritualistic, psychedelic, entranced. Vocals occasionally bubble through, gurgled or screamed. These are meant to imitate, or perhaps honor, the creatures that inspire the album: Thailand’s Phi Am, who presses on the chest of sleepers; Mexico’s brujas (flying witches); the extinct terror birds of Kelenken, and more. The album ends in a “Multicolored Candle Ritual”, a plodding, guttural track that sounds like a monster stuck in molasses. The overall impact of being introduced to so many creatures in such a short period of time is that one grows more comfortable rather than frightened. Considering the current climate, in which one is afraid of governments, armies and police, isn’t it nice to have simpler fears?
The beauty of the album is the incorporation of rhythms and timbres from the represented areas; one wanders through the aural streets like a resident, hearing the local music while remaining grounded in good old American psych. The most effective of these: the Indonesian flavors of “Sumatran Sunset”, a track whose title is shared by an internationally distributed coffee blend. Most surprisingly, there’s even a surf track (or at least half of a surf track), the previously-referenced “Ghosts of Phi Am”, which begins like a Morricone outtake, all spaghetti guitar and flailing arms, before falling off the surfboard and back into the desert. Now that’s a rude awakening. Hearing this track, one begins to suspect that Ak’chamel is a lot more fun than their appearance might imply. Sure, the band says they “are here to bring you blindness, cancer, and organ-failure”, but instead they bring the groove. Perhaps they were never fucking with spirits after all; they were fucking with us. If so, credit the trio for a joke well-played. (Richard Allen)