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Akris is a two piece sludge act from Virginia that was formed in 2009. Featuring drummer Sam Lohman and bassist and vocalist Helena Goldberg, Akris attempts to function on the mantra that less is more. Featuring only a rhythm section, Akris has one of the most sludgy, dragging sounds I've ever listened to. Yes, that's right, only a freaking rhythm section. It's almost painful to listen to at times my brain keeps expecting to hear a crushing riff or some type of atmospheric embellishment, but none ever come to save my sanity. The debut full length album by Akris is slow, tortured and painful, but I'm pretty sure that's how the duo meant for it to sound.
Akris, the band's eponymously titled full length debut, showcases almost sixty-five minutes of downtrodden tempos mixed with short bursts of energy. The band starts off with the relatively fast-paced “Fighter Pilot”, which shows off the bass talents of Helena Goldberg with a super deep, sludgy pounding along side a mix of simple rock beats and some pummeling double bass runs. If you're able to reconcile the fact that there are no guitar riffs, then it's actually quite engaging. Rather than keeping with the rather quick tempo of the album's opener, the band then delves into painfully slow rhythms with most of the following tracks. It's mostly sludgy bass lines and relatively simplistic drum beats. “Brown”, for example, never really moves faster than a crawl, as the crawling bass lines seep into your subconscious and refuse to let go. While the slow parts aren't as crawling as a drone act, the entire performance is definitely on the slower end of the sludge spectrum.
The vocals are smooth and clear, with Helena Goldberg's voice reminding me of nineties grunge heroines L7 or a slightly more vulnerable take on the vocals of Jamie Myers (Hammers of Misfortune). The smooth and clear vocals are accentuated by occasional shrieks and screams, with sound so much more devastating alongside the usual frail delivery. The vocals add an almost ethereal feel over top of the sludge-laden pounding. The beginning of “Part of Me” shows how the vocals can float over the bed of heavy plodding before ripping a vicious snarl as the music continues to crawl. Indeed, “Part of Me”, with it's take on mixing the ethereal with the heavier elements and “Vomit Within”, which shows some more of that faster paced heaviness stand apart as the two best tracks on the album. It could be that since the tracks are longer (fourteen and twelve minutes respectively) it allows the rhythms, the plodding and sense of dragging to fully engulf your brain.
I can imagine how this music could be captivating in a live setting, with all of the vibration and super thick bass, but it translates into a rocky studio album. Without a proper stereo, this whole album could come across as extremely washed out. Even with a proper stereo, the bass only approach gets a little stale with repeated listens. Like I said before, I am constantly left wanting some bone crushingly heavy guitar riff or some type of guitar accoutrement, but it never comes. Most of the tracks usually have some burst of speed in the form of a faster paced bass line or some slightly amped double bass run or punk-flavored beat, like at the end of “Profit”, but it's rare and leaves me wanting more of the fast paces.
Akris stands out because there really aren't any other acts that sound like them. Granted, there are sludge acts out the wazoo, but none really stick to a plodding bass and drum only approach. This should sit well with sludge fans that don't mind missing out on some crunchy guitar riffs. Like I said, this music could be devastating in the live setting, but as far as a studio album it's slightly rocky. The album's two long players allow total immersion into the band's brand of sludgy plodding, but I'm still left wanting something more. The shorter tracks, although decent, don't allow the band to fully sink their teeth into your brain. Check it out if you dig slow, plodding sludge; just remember there's no guitar here.
Written for The Metal Observer: