14 Feb 2023 - Thorsten
Oriental Folk, Psych-Rock | Akuphone | Release date: 20 Jan 2023 | Favorite song: The Cabinet of the Atomic Priesthood
Did anybody else miss out on this small trend that I simply missed out on while listening to loads of Black Metal, Hardcore and Sludge? Ak‘chamel is yet another example on how to incorporate folklore elements from the Middle East or elsewhere around the globe into Psych Rock or Jazz. It makes sense as ritualistic music in general is very easily adopted for this genre as its idea of repetitiveness and unusual patterns is similar to the way that these bands create sounds in their own genres. Ak’chamel for example is Psych-Rock of the noisier, somewhat dissonant kind! Welcome to A Mournful Kingdom of Sand.
There is Wyatt E. from Belgium who use a lot of Ashkenazi elements (just listen to their last record Āl Bēlūti Dārû), Tuhaf from Denmark make good use of their singers Turkish roots (clearly audible on Mere Guld), Pelegrin from France have incorporated Persian legends and some melodies into their soundscapes (for example on their new record Ways of Avicenna) and we get Ak’chamel from Texas – or to give you the full name of the band Ak’chamel, The Divinatory Monkey and the Sovereign Plumed Serpent. What a band name! However, one must be correct and admit that Ak’chamel seems to be the longest running project of those four, as the first release stems back from 2013 and since then there have been near two dozen releases listed on Discogs.
Very often, one can see that the quality of an artist ebbs away with too many releases but having had a deep dive into Ak’chamel’s discography (as far as it is available online), it must be admitted that this downward spiral is not the case with this project. Another fact that seems to deny my initial question of it being a simple trend.
Interestingly Ak’chamel seems to want to lure us into some false sense of security with the first three tracks that span the globe as each track displays a different set of influences: While the opener ”The Great Saharan-Chihuahuan Assimilation” is really a clever crossover of Saharan nomadic instrumentation playing Mexican melodies which only sometimes reminds us of Mariachi music when the guitar gives us these near-Dick-Dale’ish twangs guitar sounds. ”Clean Coal is a Porous Condom” sounds like Maghrebian scales played in a Southern French recording studio imitating the sound of arriving in a city like Fès or Meknès on camel-backs. The third track ”Amazonian Tribes Mimicking the Sound of Chainsaws With their Mouths” is a shenanigan sung aboard an Irish ship sailing up the Amazon in the 19th century trying to keep the falsely-presumed dangerous natives at bay.
Nevertheless, the opening of the fourth track ”Ossuary from the Sixth Extinction” poignantly shows that this project not only makes use of (semi-)acoustic instruments. The static noise is a good indication of the versatility that Ak’chamel needs to embellish the instrumentation, needs them to stay fresh and interesting. When they then let the acoustic guitar plays a wonderful solo in the middle of the track, the non-Western-hemisphere soundscape is back and is then supported by a perfectly blended wind instrument that could be Indian, Near Eastern (like Turkey) or even Moroccan. In that sense, Ak’chamel is also a truly rewarding project, because it challenges our somewhat stereotypical way of thinking about music by pointing out that the same sounds can originate from very different parts of the world and one should never feel to sure about their roots.
A track like Soil Death Tape Decay II” shows the sometimes lo-fi production very nicely, when one hears the somewhat metallic cling that a not-too-shiney production brings along. Nonetheless, when would one encounter a perfect state-of-the-art studio somewhere in the Sahara desert? In that sense, this lo-fi-production makes perfect sense, even if we notice a little bit later in the track that the clipping guitar line is part of the noisey character of the track. The last track ”The Cabinet of the Atomic Priesthood” is the final chapter and shows yet another side – one that connects an electric organ with a deeply winding bass-line and some chants whose religious/ritualistic character is clear from the beginning but whose origins are unclear. I have now given you insight to six of the seven tracks on A Mournful Kingdom of Sand - feel free to wave your hair in the Laurel Canyon-version of Ak’chamel that is the sixth track ”Sheltering Inside a Camel”. This track is so mindbogglingly clever arranged and so enchanting that is sounds a bit like the whole record put in a nutshell with more things to discover than one might be able to take in.
So, is this a trend? No, because it’s been already going on for too long. Is it clearly definable? Surely not in this case, although it might be with the other aforementioned examples. However, one thing is perfectly clear when listening to A Mournful Kingdom of Sand - this collection of tracks with roots around the globe in many of the sandiest regions is one heck of a record with so many details to discover it will need more than 10 or 20 spins. Global Psych-Rock ladies and gentlemen – pay more attention to it!