Review Summary: Akitsa reconcile their black metal roots and lo-fi approach
Black metal is likely the least-open-minded music genre. The moment a group labeled as “black metal” begins using techniques or instrumentation that strays from traditional black metal, a die-hard trve cult fan will begin sacrificing a goat in the name of assigning said group a new title. “Blackgaze” is the most obvious example, a description for bands such as Deafheaven and Alcest that use effects more typical of shoegaze than black metal. Akitsa join these black metal mavericks in staying true to the genre while venturing onto genre-crossing bridges.
When describing Akitsa, qualifiers like “raw” and “lo-fi” are inevitably brought up. These words describe more than just the sound of Akitsa’s music; on their fifth LP the Québécois group uses riffs more typical of downtempo punk than your standard black metal fare. For example, on the track “Naufrage Contemporain,” lead vocalist Outre-Tombe (“O.T.”) screeches over a repetitive power chord riff. This track leads into more experimental territory on “Les Flots De l’Enfer,” a power electronics-driven, spoken word track. The title track reconciles Akitsa’s experimentalism with its black metal roots, combining a chime-like keyboard riff with chanting traditional metal vocals. The guitar work here evolves from a sludge-influenced riff a more black metal-esque tremolo appearing at the end of the track, and the drum beat is stripped down to nothing more than a hi-hat and a bass drum. Many of the tracks end abruptly, adding to the jolting, ominous tone of the record.
Akitsa get mixed results when leaning more toward the black metal style from which they grew. The opener “Dévoilé” drags through its seven-minute run time (not a new problem for Akitsa, or any black metal band for that matter), whereas the penultimate track “Noire Bête Ailée” keeps the listener engaged from the arrival of that ferocious riff over the stomping drums to the closing screams from O.T. The track captures the essence of Akitsa's aim in their music: to provide a raw and original approach to black metal that genre traditionalists can appreciate. The group's decision against ending the album on such an organic song in favor of the average-at-best “Je N’y Serai Pas” causes me to question why they didn't expand the ideas of the more brilliant songs and make a more concerted effort to spice up the subpar tracks.
Grand Tyrans has potential to be a crossover hit in a genre that is unrelentingly hostile to outsiders. It’s chock-full of the aggression your favorite black metal brings, along with the experimentation that will attract punk and lo-fi fans. Furthermore, Akitsa provide a promising look into the Québécois black metal scene as 15-year pillars of the community. Hopefully, Akitsa will help create a scene of experimentalists that stay trve to their roots.