Created with the help of Fredrik Nordström (I Killed The Prom Queen, Arch Enemy, Dark Tranquility, Architects) handling mixing and mastering duties and Robert Kukla recording and producing the album with the band at Obisidan Recording Studios, “Above Empires” is the third studio album from Aktaion. Hailing from Halmstad, Sweden they released their debut album “Throne” in 2015 and a sophomore “The Parade of Nature” 12 months later. The five piece comprising vocalist Jonas Snäckmark, guitarist Francis Larsson, bassist Axel Croné, drummer Oskar Johnsen Rydh and second guitarist and vocalist Jonatan Ney take influence from everything between Pantera and Ulver to Christian Kjellvander and Thåström.
As you would hope for almost any Metal album, the first tune “North of the Sun” not only gets “Above Empires” off to a blistering start but sets the one for the album as a whole. Infusing slab after slab of bone crushing riffs with some tastefully brutal unclean vocals which keep all the lyrics audible, its a pummeling opening that offers some DJent leanings. The burst into a clean sung chorus doesn’t slow down the energy while offering a nice minor tempo shift, injecting sing-a-long ability into a mosh heavy powerhouse track while also offering some Howard Jones esq (ex-Killswitch Engage, Light The Torch) quality vocals that are seriously impressive. Kicking up some more dust like a sand storm in the Sahara Desert “King Crab” gives a palette cleansing audio break with a piece of electronic noise before the return to those chunky downtuned riffs. Very much the tale of sea beasts rising from the ocean to conquer the World, the storytelling aspect of the lyrics is well worked and the clean vocal aspect is dialed back a notch to allow the circle pits to spin endlessly during the shows. An off kilter solo during the intro to “Before the Face of God” brings in some fire and brimstone vocals from Jonas Snäckmark before some thunderously delicious riffs take hold. Subtle tempo shifts and an extended solo of face melting quality add to a rich melting pot of modern Metal that has to be heard to be believed and will bring a smile to even the most stone faced Metal Head. The use of a a vocal effect that makes a single vocalist sound like a gang chant for a single word to give a call and response effect to some of the vocals works to stunning effect.
“Oblivion” includes the album title in its opening verse and after some mirror shattering unclean vocals it offers a melodic bridge that has some aching cleans while having an undertone of menace that threatens to punch out at any point and with the unclean line “And now upon my head, the crown of the Dead” it almost does. Instead the band pull things back tastefully and slowly winding into another melodic part that showcases some seriously good song writing ability. Album title track “Above Empires” has an ageless, timeless quality to it, finely balancing the clean and unclean vocals in a way that only be finest of Metalcore acts have achieved while also keeping the energy levels high. A slower, pummeling affair, it weighs like an anchor around your neck and it’s very much the kind of track that Machine Head would hear and wish they had written for “Catharsis”. A minute shorter “In the Blink of an Eye” has a groovier riff to give it the push that makes you move. Crushing like a vice during the verse while offering a release during the odd clean lines, it’s as glass shatteringly effective as a brick through a shop window at 20 paces.
A lead flourish overlays a Meshuggah esq opening riff as “Know Peace” gets going. Lyrically thought provoking it asks “How can a man like you know peace when, the capacity for War, you have shown” with some brutal DJent across the bridge. The clean vocal harmony contains a couple of accented moments that you might miss on the first few spins but they add a certain charm to a chest thumping mid album track. An eerie guitar noise that is perhaps meant to be the Walrus brings in “March of the Walrus” which includes a saxophone taking the place of what could be a lead guitar part that on paper will probably sound like it isn’t going to work but does with stunning effect. The sound of the instrument isn’t clean or clear like you might get with a Jazz track but instead is slightly muffled which gives it a darker quality that suits the nature of the lyrics about the effect of Man on the Globe. “Stand Upon the Shoulders of Giants” calls for humanity to learn from the mistakes of the past with the kind of persuasive ability that politicians which they had, to see beyond what you know. It’s a powerful message delivered with the combination of vocal harmony and some of the most passionate and demonic unclean vocals on the album while being accompanied by a war drum pounding kit performance from Oskar Johnsen Rydh. [8/10]
North of the Sun
Before the Face of God
In the Blink of an Eye
March of the Walrus
Stand Upon the Shoulders of Giants
“Above Empires” by Aktaion is out 23rd August with pre-orders available here