Review Summary: A slightly lighter shade of doom.
Playing effective doom metal is tricky. From a technical point of view, this statement is ridiculous. There are no lightning fast riffs, sweep picked solos or machine gun blast beats, yet I would contest the ability to write something that effectively conveys sorrow whilst remaining listenable for approaching an hour (or more than one hour, in the case of many albums) is something that can't just be cobbled together haphazardly in a 3 hour writing session in someone's living room. When done badly, the end product is something that feels unfulfilling; an overly drawn out slog through riffs slower than wind erosion (and about as exciting), indecipherable vocals and an overbearing feeling of having 'missed the point'. When done well however, as Akelei's 2010 offering 'De Zwaarte van het Doorstane' proves, doom metal can be some of the most beautiful, affecting music out there.
I would like to emphasize before the bulk of this review that Akelei have not rewritten the book of doom. The riffs are still slow and heavy. Clean vocals have been used in the genre since its inception, and the lyrics (albeit in Dutch) still tell stories of despair and loss. However, what they have managed is to create an album where all the aforementioned components are used to such an effect that the end result is one inspires both beauty-stricken awe and very real melancholy. Misha Nuis' vocals are, as already alluded to, sang entirely in Dutch (aside from in Duett, where guest vocalist Cecilie Langlie sings alongside Misha in Norwegian, a concept that works strikingly well). However, a knowledge of Dutch is unnecessary to appreciate the vocal performance given throughout the album - either sombre and reverb-soaked, as used particularly in 'De Zwaarte', or emotionally-charged and powerful, such as at the end of Verlangen (the latter of which being one of the highlights of the album). It can occasionally venture into a slightly bored sounding drone, but this is usually dealt with before it seriously detriments the quality of the music.
As evidenced by the 10 minute instrumental track 'Een Droom in 6/8', where Akelei truly excel is in their riff and drum work. Despite there being only 3 or 4 main ideas implanted within the song, they are subtly changed, harmonized, and rotated enough that 10 minutes is not even close to being a chore to listen to. Most sections, not just in 'Een Droom' but across the album, straddle the line between beautiful and metallic perfectly - indeed, there is not one aggressively heavy part of this album, thanks to clever layering and strong but unexpectedly tricky drumming. As nothing overpowers anything else it's possible to take the album in as a whole, allowing the listener to be affected in the way they themselves would like to be as opposed to the music nudging them towards a 'conclusion'.
To date, this is Akelei's only full length output, but it clearly shows how fantastic doom can sound when time is taken over making it sound not just as thick and unforgiving as tar. With work being made in the studio over a new album, hopefully with their next album Akelei can get the more widespread recognition they truly deserve.