The Obelisk Questionnaire: Helena Goldberg of Akris

Posted in Questionnaire on October 25th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

helena goldberg of akris

The Obelisk Questionnaire is a series of open questions intended to give the answerer an opportunity to explore these ideas and stories from their life as deeply as they choose. Answers can be short or long, and that reveals something in itself, but the most important factor is honesty.

Based on the Proust Questionnaire, the goal over time is to show a diverse range of perspectives as those who take part bring their own points of view to answering the same questions. To see all The Obelisk Questionnaire posts, click here.

Thank you for reading and thanks to all who participate.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Helena Goldberg of Akris

How do you define what you do and how did you come to do it?

What I do on a daily basis currently encompasses a pretty broad range within a personal, musical and community leadership spectrum. I’m a single mom of a 9 year old girl. I own a music school, and get to teach piano, voice, composition and theory, serve as CEO and co-founder of Green Sloth Records, a student led nonprofit record label, perform as pianist for The Main Street Chamber Orchestra, and served on the executive board of Berryville Main Street since June 2023, a branch of the larger National Main Street organization whose ideals of bringing small town communities together by promoting teamwork through events, programs and initiatives align with so many of my fundamental underlying themes in my music itself.

Striving to be an example of a strong female role model to my young daughter, teaching music, being able to continue playing classical piano with an orchestra and my Dad conducting, and moving my nonprofit in the direction of larger community activism projects — these are things that truly fill my life.

However, “what I do” would be nothing without Akris.

To define it for myself today, it is my spirituality. It is my church- it connects me to something ancient inside me. It helps me put one foot in front of the other on days when nothing else can.

Performing with Akris is when I am able to enter a transcendental meditation state. I do wade through fields of emotion when I’m there performing- usually I am sucked up out of my body into the roof or ceiling of the room watching. There are many times I am not actually seeing the room I’m performing in at all but seeing a place at the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean. There seem to be ancient ruins there and very tall shadowy figures. I know they love me and they’ve been with me my whole life.

I am able to express and feel my own personal pain, grief, and absolute excruciating, bone crushing loss but then I find through the music itself the presence of actual beings who I have had experiences with in real life, in visions and in dreams. They are there, in the room, brought down with me during an Akris set and it’s then that I know it’s all going to be ok in the end.

How I came to do it? You were THERE right at that time JJ! There I was, fresh out of the Manhattan School of Music conservatory and I started jamming with Viveca Butler while living in NYC around 2006. At the time, this first incarnation of Akris was called Aquila – because of the uncanny coincidence of our matching swooping bird tattoos and matching dreams about these possible other dimensional beings- the constellation “Aquila” which means swooping bird was a logical choice.

I have to stop myself here though and ask for a second how did it come to pass that I went from practicing 6-8 hours/day in a classical competition piano course at one of the top schools in the world, receiving my degree in classical composition, to playing bass and developing a band so influenced by the heavy music genre, and I have to give credit where credit is due to someone who I really owe these beginning moments of inspiration to.

It’s been extremely difficult for me to talk about until now because of the nature of the circumstances surrounding our relationship, his sudden rise to extreme fame and our subsequent break up which was and still is to this day one of the hardest things I have ever had to cope with in my life.

Truly my first bass teacher, I’ll go ahead and say the love of my life at least up to this point and longest relationship I’ve ever had was with James Richardson of MGMT, whom I met when we were classmates at MSM, dated and shared a home and a dog with during all my years of living in NYC.

He was the one who introduced me to heavy sound, first through multiple sans amps of which I’ve used like 5 through the years. He’s the one who got me my first EHX bass microsynth, something that truly defined my early sound.

As an 18 year old involved in the world of classical music only- he was the one that played me Babes in Toylands “Fontanelle” for the first time and completely blew my mind apart.

I learned bass on his Rickenbacker, thunkin out lines to Dead Meadow and 13th Floor Elevator songs. I had never even listened to Led Zepplin or Black Sabbath before him. He truly opened that door for me into the world of heavy music for the first time.

When I started jamming with Viveca he enthusiastically encouraged us to go in the direction of being a loud, heavy bass and drums two piece – around this time Big Business released “Here comes the Waterworks” and I remember listening to this and having long talks with James about it being such an inspiration for vocals and bass tone.

MGMT was just starting to blow up in Brooklyn at that time around 2006/2007 and Aquila even played several “secret” shows at Glasslands with them and the other buzzy band of that time Chairlift.

This was around the time I was obsessing for the first time with the entire Melvins discography, Karp, Bretwaldas of the Heathen Doom,… . and then “Blood Mountain” by Mastodon came out. I poured through all of Mastodon’s earlier releases at that point and knew I was finding a way for what I truly wanted for our sound.

We went to the Mastodon/Neurosis show at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple — hoping to meet the Mastodon guys we hung around backstage and ended up becoming fast best friends with Ben Teeter and Chad Davis from US Christmas, who were in the band at that time and opening that show.

They invited us to come play in Hickory NC and those first tours down south introduced us to other extremely inspiring musicians and bands as we met and shared the stage with Joel and Chris from Subrig Destroyer/demonaut, Sea of Bones, Armazilla, Weedeater, Rat Babies. These bands from the southeast, throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee were always so incredibly kind, impacted Akris’s sound tremendously, were there and still are there for me — and I’m so lucky to still call them and so many more from those early times friends to this day.

Describe your first musical memory.

I was 3 or 4, and my older brother had started taking piano lessons ahead of me. Both of my parents are classical musicians, and decided my brother and I would take piano as part of our education until we graduated high school.

They signed my brother up with the most feared (still to this day) chain smoking, piano studio competition winning teacher in the Northern Virginia area.

I remember my brother being scared s-less going up to her piano with his beginner book and opening it up, and playing something with a picture of a cat.

I was so little I had to jump down off my chair but I definitely ran over and bombed their lesson to play the cat song and see the picture- luckily I didn’t get in too much punitive trouble but I did start lessons the following week. definitely influenced how I teach piano today especially to little kids and being aware of how much a visual like that can link to a musical memory!

Describe your best musical memory to date.

I have to give an honorable mention, maybe it’s cheating but its right up there-

– Anytime I get to play with my Dads orchestra it’s extremely special and rare. This is for several reasons- one being that as a pianist, we just don’t have the opportunity to play with an orchestra as much as other orchestral instruments do. Playing amidst an orchestra is just straight up THRILLING. Add to the mix my Dad, who was Leonard Bernstein’s assistant conductor in the ’70s and had a regular weekly spot at Carnegie hall with his orchestra, The Endymion Ensemble, is the conductor- it’s such an incredible experience because I get to spend the time with him, observe what an awesome leader he is as a conductor of that many people, and learn from him about these great works of music

However I think the winner for me of the best musical memory to date was probably recording the Akris self titled album at Chris Kozlowski’s Polar Bear Lair with Sam Lohman on drums. Over the course of a couple months, several sleepovers, friends like Ron “Fezz” McGuinness, Dave Sherman, Scott Nussman and the legendary Steve McKay coming in for guest recording appearances, Chris and Sam helped capture a piece of my literal heart and soul.

I was and still am crushed by Chris Kozlowski’s passing. From the time I first started having recording experiences with this band until today I have never worked with an engineer who seemed to care about, and GET… . ME, my sound, and my music like Chris did on that album.

Not only that but in re-studying the album again this past year to prepare to develop several sets of these older songs, I realized the intricacies and genius of Sam Lohman’s drumming style. The fact that it is nuanced by his jazz and noise influence, bringing in elements of the same energy evident and needed to support groups like Acid Mothers Temple and Hawkwind, while still being directly supportive and intertwined with the bass makes this such an extremely special album and the best musical experience of my life.

Sam is now spending more time in Japan with his daughter which is wonderful- we have been in communication about continuing to play together in some capacity in the future, which I truly hope for. I also hope that, while I may never meet another sound artist like Chris Kozlowski, that I can find an engineer someday that is kind, respectful, and truly cares as much as he did.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

This past year Akris went through a major lineup change and speed bump in the release of a project that has been about 13 years in the works- “Wake the Sleeping Village”. You may remember having released the prequel song and music video to this in “Brown”- Akris had a plan at that time to record the music that had already been written by 2015 for WTSV, shoot the sequel short film and release the work as a concept album with a fully illustrated storybook.

Instead, “Your Mantis” was released, comprised of older Akris songs and a few shorter ones written in 2015, which unfortunately can no longer be found online anywhere that I am aware of. The members of Akris who were playing drums and guitar from 2015-Feb 2023 stated to me that I was to take down all materials involving them, refrain from naming them, and to disregard this would result in legal action.

The WTSV album actually initially had been recorded with this lineup by a studio engineer in Baltimore in February of 2020. An artist was also hired around this time to begin work on the storybook, which shifted into a prospective comic book.

I still have so much love for these individuals who were my friends and bandmates for SO long. However ultimately, there were choices that were made starting from around this time and worsening with extreme isolation in the pandemic that has culminated in quite simply, currently, one of the worst depressions I may have ever dealt with in my life.

Telling these longtime friends I didn’t want to play with them anymore, and knowing that we had a product ready to be released, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my entire life. However I knew that the sound of the album felt, synesthetically, like disrespecting myself. And while I have GREAT appreciation for the comic book artist, he was chosen by my previous bandmates and it was again made clear to me in our last conversations that I would need to find another artist for the project to avoid legal repercussions.

Jason Fletcher (Gradius) stepped in on drums to play several shows with Akris temporarily over the spring and summer while a short North Carolina tour was booked in October but my depression continued to worsen as thoughts of giving up started to ring out louder in my head.

One day pretty recently my brother called.

I think he may have caught wind that I’d been having a harder time than usual lately with depression and anxiety..

I love my brother and I know he was offering me a way out. Just, a logical, rational minded human beings take on this stage in my life.

He said “ You know, Helena… .you don’t HAVE to do Akris … you CAN just … let it go? You’ve got a lot going on right now with the school and the nonprofit and Mary, maybe just let it go and you’ll feel better.”

Up until that second- I had been considering just letting it go. More than ever. Letting EVERYTHING go. Just big old, total complete give up on music. Just be a mom and that’s it, throw in the towel on life, I’m done.

But… I found myself saying… “actually… I think I would… NOT feel better if I gave up Akris. I think actually I NEED Akris. To FUNCTION.”

Somehow it miraculously worked out within the next few hours of that conversation for Zak Suleri (Foehammer, Et Mors) to be able to do the October tour with Akris.

This short mini North Carolina tour is not in support of a new recording or release. It’s a homecoming. It became clear to me the moment my brother verbalized the option of giving up, that I couldn’t.

As long as some venue will let me have a stage somewhere, and as long as someone will beat two sticks on something with me I now know – I may have those thoughts again, and those difficult moments where it does seem like giving up is the easy way out. But there is something in me that has NO way out other than Akris and I just can’t survive without it.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

This question is so individualized and subjective for each person. Generally I feel that it leads to an understanding that you will always have new opportunities for learning and progressing further.

This does relate in a way to my own personal take on what artistic progression has been like for me; it’s been an unraveling rather than an enlightening process.

My artistic progression has led me to the brink of absolute no return and when there are no other options and no other ways forward I realize progress doesn’t even matter. It’s just simply having the ability to listen, feel and look for the sounds that exist inside me, or are being given to me from a spiritual place, and then attempt to express them. Artistic progression is knowing I have to do this for the sake of myself and in my belief that I am not alone.

How do you define success?


You WANT me to say happiness don’t you?? That WOULD be the thing to say wouldn’t it?

I mean, that would be nice. I guess I’ve come to the point where I’m just really thinking about relationships.

Here’s a question I’d love YOU to answer sometime JJ – how much does a band’s conventional success (like, getting to the point where you’re actually lucky enough to be getting paid something, you get to have promoted touring and play actual well attended shows) do you think depends on the good relationships and communication skill set of the band members?

[Depends entirely on the band, but that kind of broader success often requires those elements, absolutely, unless you have enough money to just do whatever you want anyhow. I’ll note that’s not necessarily my definition of success. –ed.]

I think- a LOT. How many bands can WE ALL NAME right now that we LOVED that broke up forever because of bandmate communication issues or squabbles.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because as I move forward into a potential new Akris era I try to ask myself have I been doing things the wrong way in this regard- have I counted on bandmates too much to be more than business professional work colleagues and be more like friends? Is that appropriate and ok in a band setting? Is it needed?

I think when you’re out there in the middle of nowhere on tour in the dead of night and something goes wrong… or when you’re on stage giving it your absolute ALL cause your entire LIFE hurts and that stage is your only safe space … I think you do need a bandmate there that’s also a friend you can count on.

Success for me would be continuing to cultivate the kind of bandmate relationships where communication could be easily expressed in a constructive way, from a standpoint of kindness and support.

I think with that success, anything can be done.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

No matter what bad memory I come up with … the unwanted, or scary, or gross, or even life altering things I have SEEN that come to mind as examples… after a few moments I realize I never would take it back. I would never wish I had not seen that thing.
I DO feel certain images, if we are talking strictly visuals here. Of course- maybe the most unproductive of these examples… I can’t even write too much about cause I will literally go pass out and barf, but if I see anything too gorey, or too leg/arm choppy, it may be over for me.

“Master and Commander” for example was truly a waste of a money ticket because at that amputation scene I was a goner, barfin in the movie theater trash cans, passing out on the movie theater floor.

But even in those examples – I still learned something about myself. That’s what makes this question so hard. I don’t know if I’d wish that experience away because it helped me learn something about me.

Any bad example I thought of here was like this. Some of the most pivotal moments in my life, where if I hadn’t seen something, maybe there would have been a more lucrative outcome- i realize there’s always a sacrifice of something from my present life that might have been lost.

Truly one of those, every bad moment leads you to where you are today, kind of scenarios.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

Akris’s next multimedia release, Wake the Sleeping Village. Even though this music was written almost 9 years ago and I’m dying to write and release NEW new material- I feel like I can’t until this is released. It’s just the next part of the Akris storyline and there’s something in me that really has to keep things chronological.

The 12-14 panel storyboard, illustration notes and film outline (and the actual dream I had in 2011) begin with the robed travelers picking up where they left off in the “Brown” video and traveling through an undefined eternal landscape of time. They eventually come to a wide open field with mountains in the distance – a tiger that fills the sky suddenly appears over the mountain range and the travelers know this is their purpose.

They help each other fly up into the mouth of the tiger, discovering an inner world within. Eventually they come out upon a mountain ridge to discover a village buried in snow- as they make their way down, they are invited in by a sleepy villager and reveal a surprising twist that wakes the entire village.

One major theme of the album aligns directly with the passion I have always felt about touring specifically through small town communities. It’s been my intention to include a letter to the reader within this book stating that if they live in one of these communities, particularly one that is underserved, to reach out to Akris and we will work towards putting their town on our future tour list.

I have mentioned synesthesia a couple times already here and this project is extremely synesthetic for me. This is one of the reasons why I ultimately, physically, could not support the release of materials that had been completed as of February 2023. There are visual artists who absolutely align with the sound and feel of this work for me, and my hope is to work with my friend and California based artist Skillit (Sean McEleny).

This project will be a multimedia release marketed not as Akris’s next album of music, but as a Story Book with Music and short film.

What do you believe is the most essential function of art?

After having taught the methodology for answering this question for almost two decades; thinking about this, meditating on it, researching it scientifically and spiritually my entire life; the best answer I can give is that I think art functions to help us as human beings express emotion — whatever that may mean subjectively to the individual.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

My nonprofit organization is in the middle of approvals process meetings for a monument recognizing the 4,735 formerly enslaved individuals (according to the 1860 census) in Clarke County VA that never received acknowledgment for their lives.

I heard about this shocking statistic while listening to a speech given by a dear friend of mine, civil rights pioneer Dorothy Davis, at the Juneteenth celebration this past year. I have gotten to know Dorothy and the rest of the congregation at St Mary’s Episcopal Church very well over the past 3 years of being the pianist and music director there- it’s an extremely historic African American church located here in Berryville.

My students actually raised close to $2,000 over the course of their summer program for the cause and presented before the Board of Supervisors- since then I established a Descendants Committee to make decisions about the prospective monument, and we now have about 12 representatives from different areas of the county.

The initiative has now passed the first three approvals meetings and is on its way to being presented before the Bishop of the Episcopalian Diocese of Virginia (this is due to the vote by descendants of location choice being on St. Mary’s church grounds). They have delegated myself and Dorothy to represent the committee in Fredericksburg before the Bishop after which time it will go before the Architectural Review Board.

It’s crazy to me that this had never happened in 160 years and I am VERY much looking forward to the ongoing process- even though we have already met with some extremely difficult opposition, the fact that it’s got momentum is absolutely groundbreaking.

Akris, Your Mantis (2016)

Akris, “Brown” official video

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Akris Playing Southeast Shows This Weekend

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 20th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

It’s been a minute since Virginian heavy noise rockers Akris were last heard from. Their second full-length, Your Mantis (review here), arrived in 2016 and is certainly due for a follow-up. That album was made as a trio, where the band’s first, a 2013 self-titled debut (review here), found them a duo, and it’s to that configuration they’ve apparently returned, founding vocalist/bassist Helena Goldberg joined now by drummer Jason Fletcher, also of Gradius.

The new long-player is called Wake the Sleeping Village, and they’ll look to record it probably early next year with ambitions toward a multimedia release, and they’ve got some limited merch available one can chase down if so inclined. If you’re in North Carolina this weekend, they’ll be around as well for three shows with Zak Suleri behind the kit, for gigs you can see in the poster that came with the following update:

akris shows

Akris will be supported by Zak Suleri (Et Mors) on drums for a southeastern tour on 10/20 in Wilmington, NC.

The kickoff will be held at Reggie’s with Mortal Man and Arkn.

This is the first out-of-state run of shows for Akris since 2019; the tour also includes a show in Raleigh, NC with Valkyrie, Valletta and High Crime on 10/21, and Asheville with Night Beers on 10/22.

Akris has been playing Virginia and Maryland shows after returning to its original two-piece bass and drums formation this past spring of 2023 with Jason Fletcher (Gradius) on drums.

The band will be touring this fall and winter as they prepare to record their upcoming album, “Wake the Sleeping Village” a sequel to the music video for “Brown”.

The project will be a multimedia release that will include a fully illustrated storybook and video.

They will have the last items for sale at these events that were part of a limited release of merchandise featuring artwork by Jon Moser including shirts and stickers; other items include 3 different sticker designs, vintage Akris t shirts, buttons, shot glasses, and physical copies of the 2013 self titled album recorded by Chris Kozlowski.

Please contact Helena Goldberg at to inquire about purchase/shipping information for one of these exclusive items.

Artwork for exclusive merchandise:

Akris, “Brown” official video

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Maryland Doom Fest 2023 Announces Lineup

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 31st, 2022 by JJ Koczan

It’s a big ‘un. And if you’re like me, there are a couple names that stick out from the poster below, particularly Earthride and The Skull. Both are tribute sets, of course. The Skull frontman Eric Wagner passed away in 2021 after complications from a covid-19 infection and the loss of Earthride‘s Dave Sherman just a couple months ago continues to be keenly felt in and beyond the confines of the scene he called home. Karl Agell (ex-C.O.C.) will step in for The Skull, while Scott Angelacos of Hollow Leg is set to front a rotating cast of players for Earthride. You would be hard-pressed to find a more fitting occasion for honoring one’s own, except perhaps this gig in a couple weeks.

Plenty of familiar, returning acts as well as newcomers. Hippie Death Cult and will travel from the Pacific Northwest, Switchblade Jesus and Doomstress make an appearance (not the first for either) from Texas, and Red Mesa come straight out of the capital-‘desert’ Desert. Meanwhile, Faith in Jane, Black Lung, Bloodshot, Mangog, Mythosphere, Thonian Horde, Spiral Grave and plenty of others represent the Maryland home team, High Leaf and Thunderbird Divine trip down from Philly, Curse the Son (CT) and Guhts (NY) come from farther north, Hollow Leg make the trip out from Florida, and Lo-Pan, Doctor Smoke and Brimstone Coven head over from the Midwest. That’s just off the top of my head. I’m not sure there’s ever been a MDDF pulling so many bands from different parts of the country, though of course international bands have featured in the past as well.

There are always some shakeup between the first announcement and the final lineup, but so far so good here. Any way it works out, Maryland Doom Fest has nothing to prove at this point. Guaranteed banger.

Here’s the poster (oy) and the lineup, the latter in alphabetical order:

Maryland Doom Fest 2023 sq


Maryland Doom Fest 2023

June 22-25 – Frederick, MD

We are proud to present to you The Maryland DooM Fest 2023 lineup roster and 2023 promotional art!!!!

We showcase over 50 kickass bands bringing you heavy riffs over these #4daysofdoom!!

The centerpiece art was created by Joshua Adam Hart (Earthride, Unorthodox, Revelation, Chowder, Stout, to name a few).

Josh is a career tattoo artist and is currently scheduling appointments at Triple Crown Towson Tattoo. Schedule to get ink from him at

The incredible flyer layout, coloring, and design is by our very talented Bill Kole (make sure to check out his band Ol’ Time Moonshine)!!

Above the Treachery, Akris, Black Lung, Bloodshot, Bonded by Darkness, Borracho, Brimstone Coven, Cobra Whip, Conclave, Crowhunter, Curse the Son, DeathCAVE, Doctor Smoke, Doomstress, Double Planet, Dust Prophet, Earthride, Faith in Jane, False Gods, Flummox, Fox 45, Future Projektor, Gallowglas, Grim Reefer, Guhts, Helgamite, High Leaf, Hippie Death Cult, Hog, Hollow Leg, Hot Ram, Las Cruces, Leather Lung, Lo-Pan, Mangog, Mythosphere, Orodruin, Red Mesa, Severed Satellites, Shadow Witch, Smoke the Light, Spiral Grave, Switchblade Jesus, The Skull, Thonian Horde, Thousand Vision Mist, Thunderbird Divine, Unity Reggae, VRSA, Weed Coughin, Wizzerd

Lo-Pan, “Ascension Day” live at Maryland Doom Fest 2019

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Maryland Doom Fest 2021 Announces Lineup

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 22nd, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Maryland Doom Fest 2021 is set for Halloween Weekend, Oct. 28-31, in Frederick, Maryland. Some of the acts on the newly announced bill are carryovers from the first-delayed-then-canceled 2020 edition — among them SasquatchWorshipper, and so on — but it’s worth noting that among those and others, the likes of The Age of Truth will have a new record out by this Fall, and pre-pandemic, Boozewa didn’t even exist. So yes, things have changed.

For further proof of the festival’s stylistic branching out — and with this many bands, they’d just have have to — you’ll note the departure in the poster art from the fest-standard purple toward a greater range of color. The music they’re pushing is likewise broader in palette, and to think of seeing the likes of Howling Giant and Revvnant alongside Arduini/BalichOmen Stones, and Place of Skulls is an encouraging thought indeed. This even was much-missed last year.

Expect a time-table sooner than later, as organizer JB Matson doesn’t screw around when it comes to that kind of thing. The lineup announcement — short and sweet, as ever — is further proof of same.

I don’t know what the world’s gonna look like come Halloween, but I know damn well this is one reason I’m glad I got that vaccine.

[UPDATE 04/30: Black Road and Vessel of Light can’t make it. Lo-Pan and When the Deadbolt Breaks have been added. If there are any further changes, I’ll probably just make a new post.]

To wit:

maryland doom fest 2021 new poster

Here is the Md Doom Fest 2021 roster folks!!!
Halloween weekend – Oct 28-31, 2021


Poobah, Sasquatch, Place of Skulls, Lo-Pan, Lost Breed, Cavern, Horseburner, Spiral Grave, The Age of Truth, Mangog, Wrath of Typhon, Helgamite, Almost Honest, Indus Valley Kings, VRSA, Monster God, Et Mors, Astral Void, Worshipper, Boozewa, Admiral Browning, Omen Stones, Formula 400, Molasses Barge, Arduini/Balich, Dirt Eater, Dyerwolf, Ol’ Time Moonshine, Shadow Witch, Revvnant, Bloodshot, Ritual Earth, Gardens of Nocturne, Conclave, Crow Hunter, Bailjack, Warmask, Akris, Alms, Thunderbird Divine, Strange Highways, Howling Giant, Yatra, Jaketehhawk, When the Deadbolt Breaks, Grave Huffer, Dust Prophet, Plague Wielder, Weed Coughin, Morganthus, Tines

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Akris, Your Mantis: Burning, Rowing

Posted in Reviews on November 29th, 2016 by JJ Koczan


It feels like longer than three years since bass-driven Virginia sludge outfit Akris offered up their self-titled debut (review here), but part of that may be due to the rather significant changes the band has undergone in that stretch. Founded as a two-piece in the wake of bassist/vocalist Helena Goldberg‘s prior outfit, AquilaAkris‘ second full-length, Your Mantis (on DGRecords), marks an entirely new beginning for the group, which in 2015 announced that joining Goldberg would be guitarist/vocalist Paul Cogle (NagatoBlack Blizzard) and drummer Tim Otis (Admiral Browning), establishing them as a trio for the first time. That’s no minor shift, adding guitar and second vocals for the first time, let alone a drummer with the fervor and intense personality and play that Otis brings, and the six-track/38-minute Your Mantis meets the change head-on with ambition, beginning a storyline reportedly intended to carry across a multi-album arc into the next Akris release, whatever form that may take when they get there.

This lineup made its opening statement with last year’s Fall EP (review here), so for those who heard that or the first record, perhaps Your Mantis won’t be so much a superficial sidestep from its predecessor — it’s still very much Goldberg at the core of group, and their blend of aggressive noise rock and weighted sludge tonality is consistent — but one can hear progression both in terms of the concepts with which Akris are working, and in the still-engagingly-raw sound they bring to bear, the track “Brown” offering a direct comparison point as it’s shared between both albums.

Worth noting that the version of “Brown” on Your Mantis is over a minute shorter than the one on Akris. The long-player itself follows suit. Recorded and mixed at Oubliette Studios with a mastering job by Noel Mueller of Grimoire Records and topped with Sean “Skillit” McEleny cover art, Your Mantis is over 20 minutes shorter than the preceding self-titled, and when it comes to a sound that plays back and forth between hypnotic melodicism and intense punkish fervor in the manner theirs does, building quickly into bursts of aggro thrust with a measure’s notice as Goldberg swaps out clean-singing for vicious screams, that brevity lends efficiency. Add to that a song like the well-placed “Burn with Me,” third of the six cuts, which finds Goldberg and Cogle working in duet-style vocals on a linear movement that’s clear and crisp in its execution, and Akris bring a sense of accomplishment and realization to Your Mantis that, while it may only be part of the story in terms of lyrical narrative, has plenty to say about how far they’ve come in the last three years.


Since her days in Aquila, brashness has always been a feature of Goldberg‘s work, and that’s no different as opener “Profit” shifts from its early swaying and thudding into searing sludge and noise, setting up one of the essential trades the album will continue to make if not telling the full story in terms of atmosphere, which begins to flesh out with the fuzzier, more patient and winding “Sturgeon.” Melodically sung for the duration, it nonetheless hits into a slow-rolling finish before its five minutes are up, but even more, it provides a transition point between the scorch of “Profit” and “Burn with Me,” which brings Cogle forward vocally for the first time. It’s a quieter pulse at first, kept somewhat tense through percussion à la “Planet Caravan,” but that doesn’t last, and just past the halfway point heavier guitar kicks in and drives the song into its apex, leaving enough room on the other side to finish quiet and bring a sense of symmetry to what one presumes would be the end of side A.

Though it’s shorter as already noted, “Brown” feels more spacious in its early meanderings, but still locks into a blasting drive in its second half. That move between where-am-I-who-am-I and oh-yeah-I’m-here-to-rip-your-throat-out is in some ways the key to making Your Mantis work as it does, but Akris aren’t afraid to screw with the formula either, as the biting “Row” demonstrates with a near-blackened blend of rumble and screams at its start, giving way to the single angriest push of the record, an insistent noisy post-grunge chug still consistent atmospherically with echo on Goldberg‘s vocals, which relent as the three-piece move into the brief chorus only to trade back again as the next verse takes hold. It’s not chaos exactly — there’s a plan at work on a structural level — but it sure sounds like it. “Row,” as the penultimate cut before the 10-minute finale “Visitor,” is the most brutal piece on Your Mantis, and Otis, who so frequently shines as a drummer in moments of fury, makes a highlight of the frustrated crashes that accompany its late payoff, but it is ultimately the closer tasked to sum up the record as a whole.

Not as easy a job as it might initially seem. Across its first five tracks, Your Mantis has careened, lurched, thrust, wandered, pivoted and turned, remaining cohesive and even flowing front to back in a manner born of some of the same impulses as the debut but grown outward from them on nearly every level of theme and performance — and with a new lineup. “Visitor” is wise to take its time in covering all this ground, and whether or not it was written with the intent of closing, it does the job well, representing the dynamic in sound and style that Akris have come to proffer on what might itself feel like a first outing were it not so clearly benefiting from the experience of having made the self-titled before it. Clear-headed? Certainly as far as its purposes go. Your Mantis may well be the beginning of something of larger scope for Akris, but they still hold onto that basic rawness beneath, and their approach is all the richer for it.

Akris, Your Mantis (2016)

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Akris on Bandcamp

DGRecords webstore

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Maryland Doom Fest 2017: Set Times Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 14th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

So I guess we’re pretty much ready to roll on Maryland Doom Fest 2017, right? We’ve had the lineup announced, we’ve got the schedule now. Might be another couple weeks getting t-shirts together — and hoodies; should’ve gotten a hoodie this year, which admittedly is something that occurs to one way less at the end of June than in mid-November — but then I’d say we’re about good to go. No need to wait until next summer on it. Let’s do this thing.

Maybe that’s just me being excited at the prospect of that Friday night lineup, which seems particularly strong front to back — not to take away from any of the other days, but you know I dig me some Lo-Pan — but either way, if Maryland Doom Fest‘s now-three-year tenure has been marked by anything it’s a lack of bullshit. A fervent get-down-to-business-and-kick-as-doing-it mentality. It’s perhaps the most “Maryland doom” aspect to the whole event. Maryland Doom Fest 2017 is clearly no different. Here we are more than half a year from the event kicking off and I know what time I need to be there on Thursday to watch Spillage start the pre-party. This is information I’m glad to have.

If your calendar isn’t marked yet, you might want to get on that:


The Maryland Doom Fest 2017

June 23, 2017 – June 25, 2017

Cafe 611
611 N Market St, Frederick, Maryland 21701


• Valkyrie 1150 – 1250
• Beastmaker 1055 – 1140
• Pilgrim 1000 – 1045
• Borracho 915 – 950
• Weed Is Weed 830 – 905
• Sweet Heat 745 – 820
• Spillage 700 -735

• Captain Beyond 1240 – 150
• Lo-Pan 1140 – 1230
• Apostle of Solitude 1050 – 1130
• Earthride 1000 – 1040
• Beelzefuzz 910 – 950
• Wretch 820 – 900
• Demon Eye 735 –810
• Brimstone Coven 650 – 725
• Black Manta 605 – 640
• Sierra 515 – 555

• The Skull 1245 – 150
• Bang! 1140 – 1235
• Wo Fat 1050 – 1130
• The Well 1000 – 1040
• The Watchers 910 – 950
• Hollow Leg 825 – 900
• Iron Man 740 – 815
• Dark Music Theory 655 – 730
• War Injun 610 – 645
• Thonian Horde 525 – 600
• Witches of God 440 – 515
• Black Tar Prophet 355 – 430
• Conclave 305 – 345

• Headliner 1140 – 1245
• The Atomic Bitchwax 1045 -1130
• Serpents of Secrecy 955 – 1035
• Lightning Born 905 – 945
• Lifetime Shitlist 815 – 855
• Akris 730 – 805
• Burn Thee Insects 645 – 720
• Faith In Jane 600 – 635
• Cavern 515 – 550
• Old Blood 430 – 505
• Horehound 345 – 420


Earthride, Live at Jason McCash Benefit, 2014

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Akris Premiere “Brown” Video; Your Mantis Due Sept. 23

Posted in Bootleg Theater on September 5th, 2016 by JJ Koczan


As I understand it, the new Akris video is the beginning point for a storyline that will continue into their next clip and maybe even their next release, but from the artfully shot slow-motion closeups, the ’90s-style walking toward the camera while the camera backs up at pace — see also Mantar‘s recent “Cross the Cross” video (posted here) — and the focus on performance throughout, there’s plenty in “Brown” to represent what the Virginian trio are all about. They’ll issue the band’s second full-length, Your Mantis (with fabulous Skillit artwork), Sept. 23 on DGRecords, marking the long-play debut of Akris‘ current lineup of bassist/vocalist/founder Helena Goldberg, guitarist/vocalist Paul Cogle (also Black Blizzard) and drummer Tim Otis (also Admiral Browning) after the release of last year’s Fall EP (review here).

akris your mantisAnd for a standalone representation of what this version of Akris — they started as a duo and released their self-titled debut (review here) in 2013 — are all about, there’s little more one could ask of “Brown” than what the song delivers. Goldberg is front and center and her vocals melodic in a post-grunge tradition, always with a kind of riot grrl undercurrent, but the additional fuzz that Cogle‘s guitar brings to the mix lets her explore more fleshed out basslines, and of course Otis is a master of on-the-beat drumming, his tight style perfectly suited to Akris‘ noise rock tendencies, which come out more later in the track as Goldberg moves into and out of more vicious screams and leads the three-piece through d-beat rush that’s a surprise after the initial groove they lock in, but not at all out of place.

DGRecords has Your Mantis available for preorder now (linked below). The release show is set for Sept. 23 at Guido’s Speakeasy in Frederick, Maryland, and under the “Brown” video, you’ll find some comment from Goldberg about how the song and video tie together and where they might be headed from here.

Please enjoy:

Akris, “Brown” official video

Helena Goldberg on “Brown”:

This video for “Brown” is a preface to our next album and video (projected release 2017/2018). This multiple album-spanning storyline is based on a dream that I had in 2011, in which three brown-robed travelers journey in a timeless and seemingly empty world, united by a common purpose that will not be revealed until the end of our next album and video. Seen through the “eyes” of an unknown entity, the video offers an intimate glimpse into the projected origins of this group of travelers (the three members of Akris). The viewer finds the travelers coming to an old warehouse, discovering their robes and instruments, then packing them up and beginning our journey that will be continued next with the Sleeping Village album.

The Akris sophomore full-length, “Your Mantis” will be the first album released by DGRecords with the new lineup (Paul Cogle on guitar, Tim Otis on drums). The album has songs that listeners may recognize from past albums (“Brown,” “Profit,” “Row of Lights”), as well as brand new tracks such as “Visitor,” “Burn with Me,” and “Sturgeon.” The visual imagery and storyline that you will see in the video for “Brown” seems to have been as much a part of the song as the words and music, and constantly in my mind over the years. I can’t say enough good things about Three Goats Moving Pictures. Their commitment and passion was completely inspiring, and it has been extremely moving to me that they were so dedicated to creating visually these images I’ve had in my head for so long. They were incredibly professional (worked nonstop for about 10-12 hours the day of the shoot, one guy literally just grabbing a handful of bread and peanut butter at one point and continuing working, that was his “break”!). It’s also been amazing how supportive DGRecords has been in helping us to create this video. Your Mantis drops September 23rd, and we will be touring out to the Southwest Terror Fest in October in support of the release!

Akris on tour:
Fri 09/23 Frederick MD – Guidos- CD release show
Fri 10/14 Asheville NC – Odditorium
Sat 10/15 Nashville TN – Springwater
Sun 10/16 Little Rock – TBA
Mon 10/17 Austin, TX – The Lost Well – w/ Order of the Owl and Destroyer of Light
Wed 10/19 Rogue bar Scottsdale AZ w/ order of the owl
Thurs 10/20 Tucson AZ – Southwest Terror Fest- Gary’s place
Sat 10/22 TBA
Mon 10/24 TBA
Tues 10/25 Hattiesburg – The Tavern
Wed 10/26 Birmingham – the Fireside

Akris on Thee Facebooks

Akris release show event page

Akris on Bandcamp

Your Mantis preorder from DGRecords

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Quarterly Review: Jess and the Ancient Ones, Iguana, Seamount, Gentlemans Pistols, Wired Mind, Automaton, Sideburn, Year of the Cobra, Drive by Wire, Akris

Posted in Reviews on January 4th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk quarterly review winter

And so it begins again. It had been my original intention to launch this latest Quarterly Review last week, but as that would’ve had me basically walking out on the holidays with my family, it seemed somehow prickish to be like, “Uh, sorry dudes, riffs call” and split, particularly when there are hours of driving involved. Still, though it’s already running late by the arbitrary calendar in my mind, I’m glad to be able to tackle a batch of releases that both looks back on the last part of 2015 and to the New Year we’ve just entered. As ever, there is a lot, a lot, a lot of ground to cover, so I won’t delay except to remind of what the Quarterly Review actually is:

Between now and this Friday, I will post 10 reviews a day in a single batch grouped like this one. The order is pretty much random, though something higher profile is usually first. It is my intention that each post covers a range of styles, and hopefully within that, you’re able to find something that speaks to you. Many of these releases were sent to me as physical product, and before I start, I want to extend thanks to those groups for undertaking the time and expense of giving me the full representation of their work to hopefully better do mine.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Jess and the Ancient Ones, Second Psychedelic Coming: The Aquarius Tapes

jess and the ancient ones the second psychedelic coming

Finnish six-piece Jess and the Ancient Ones pay homage to psych cultistry on their sophomore full-length, Second Psychedelic Coming: The Aquarius Tapes (on Svart), and while one might argue with the band marking this out as the “second coming” of psych – I’d say the third, generationally-speaking – the paean to late-‘60s sonic spaciousness in “In Levitating Secret Dreams” is unmistakable, the songwriting of guitarist Thomas Corpse conjuring fervent swirl behind the soulful Grace Slick-isms of vocalist Jess. At 65 minutes, it’s a classic double-LP, but Second Psychedelic Coming seems most engaged in its longer pieces, the eight-minute “Crossroad Lightning,” which pulls back from the urgency of earlier cuts “”The Flying Man” or the opening “Samhain,” and the 22-minute closer “Goodbye to Virgin Grounds Forever,” which has an arrangement to match its scope that unfolds no less gracefully. Some of the more frenetic parts seem to be arguing with themselves, but the overarching vibe remains satisfyingly tripped out and that closer is their to-date masterpiece.

Jess and the Ancient Ones on Thee Facebooks

Jess and the Ancient Ones at Svart Records

Iguana, Cult of Helios

iguana cult of helios

No big surprise that a record called Cult of Helios would seem to so unabashedly bask in sunshine. The four-track/32-minute sophomore full-length from German heavy psych four-piece Iguana has its driving moments, some in opener “Josiah” but more in the subsequent melodic thriller “Albedo,” but the prevailing sensibility is toward tonal warmth and steady groove. The band – vocalist/guitarist Alexander Lörinczy, guitarist Thomas May, bassist Alexander May and drummer Robert Meier – debuted in 2012 with Get the City Love You (review here), but Cult of Helios is a more cohesive, individualized release, whether it’s the hook of “Albedo,” the Beatles-gone-fuzz of “A Deadlock Situation” or the lush, flowing 15-minute jam of the closing title-track. Iguana’s propensity for blending underlying structure with a wide-open, welcoming atmosphere is writ large over Cult of Helios, and the album shines in a manner befitting its inspiration. A sleeper that begs waking.

Iguana on Thee Facebooks

Iguana website

Seamount, V: Nitro Jesus

seamount v nitro jesus

Most long-distance projects fizzle out after a record or two. With a lineup split between Bavaria and Connecticut, doom rockers Seamount have managed to sustain a remote collaboration, the German band of bassist Markus Ströhlein, guitarist Tim Schmidt and drummer Jens Hofmann working with New England-based vocalist Phil Swanson (ex-Earthlord, ex-Hour of 13, Vestal Claret, etc.). The excellently-titled Nitro Jesus (on The Church Within) is their fifth full-length since 2007, and boasts a refined blend of doom, NWOBHM and dark thematics common to Swanson’s lyrics. Tonally crisp but immersive, slow crawlers like “Can’t Escape the Pain” are offset by the ‘80s metal swing of “Beautiful Sadness,” and each side caps with a longer track, whether that’s the seven-minute “Scars of the Emotional Stuntman,” the most singularly sweeping movement here, or the closer “No One Knows,” which has a moodier feel, the guitar recalling Don Henley accompanied by piano as the finale hits its apex. For those who like their metal of tried and true spirit and individual presentation, Nitro Jesus delivers in more than just its name.

Seamount on Thee Facebooks

The Church Within Records

Gentlemans Pistols, Hustler’s Row

gentlemans pistols hustler's row

Every now and then you hear a record that reminds you what you love about rock and roll in the first place. It doesn’t need to be the most complicated thing in the world, or the most expressive, or the heaviest or the most whatever of anything else, but like Gentlemans Pistols’ third LP, Hustler’s Row (on Nuclear Blast), if it locks in a special chemistry between its players, that’s more than enough to carry it through. That the UK four-piece are ace songwriters and bolstered by the lead guitar chops of Bill Steer (Firebird, Carcass) for the Thin Lizzy dual-solos – vocalist/guitarist James Atkinson on the other end – helps plenty as well, but with the tight, classic-style grooves brought to across Hustler’s Row by bassist Robert Threapleton and drummer Stuart Dobbins, Gentlemans Pistols give essential heavy rock a non-retro modern interpretation that might leave one wondering why so many people try to ape a ‘70s production to start with.

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Gentlemans Pistols at Nuclear Blast

Wired Mind, Mindstate: Dreamscape

wired mind mindstate dreamscape

Each side of Wired Mind’s Mindstate: Dreamscape LP (on HeviSike Records) gracefully unfolds a lushly-toned, warm, engaging heavy psychedelic sprawl. The chief influence for the Hannover two-piece of guitarist/vocalist Mikey and drummer Chris is their countrymen godfathers Colour Haze, but the duo make their presence felt early on “Road,” the opener and longest-track at 11:01, which balances serene and spaced exploration with post-Kyuss “Thumb” shuffle, all the more enticing for having been recorded live, conjuring Echoplex spaciousness around the repeated line, “All we gotta do is love.” Both sides work on the same structure of a longer track feeding into a shorter one, “Road”’s considerable amassed thickness giving way to the winding groove of “Jennifer’s Dream of a Switchblade” while the Duna Jam-ready vibes permeating from “Wired Dream” finding a moving complement in closer “Woman,” which effectively captures desert rock rhythmic propulsion. As their debut, Mindstate: Dreamscape feels conceptually and stylistically cohesive, and sets Wired Mind up with a sonic breadth on which to continue to build.

Wired Mind on Thee Facebooks

Wired Mind at HeviSike Records

Automaton, Echoes of Mount Ida

automaton echoes of mount ida

Greek heavy rollers Automaton revisit their 2013 debut full-length, Echoes of Mount Ida, for a limited vinyl release. The four-track offering initially surfaced coated in burl and massive riffing, but a remix adds psychedelic edge to the lumbering fervor of “Fear,” on which the Athenian five-piece are joined by Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Øresund Space Collective for added synth and swirl. He delivers, and the opener also adds guest vocals from Nancy Simeonidou, but the remix keeps things consistent as Automaton transition into the chugging “Beast of War,” a complex near-djent rhythm (which will find complement in the end of “Echoes of Mount Ida” itself) smoothly met by drummer Lykourgos to finish side A of the LP while the locked-in nod of “Breathe in Stone” bleeds into the closing title-track as Automaton offer riffy largesse set in a spacious backdrop like mountains in the distance. Interesting to see if the semi-reboot of their debut is indicative of some overall shift in direction, but at least on the vinyl offering, it makes their sound that much broader.

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Sound Effect Records

Sideburn, Evil or Divine

sideburn evil or divine

Between Martin Karlsson’s keys (also bass) and vocalist Dimitri Keiski’s propensity to soar, the mood turns epic pretty quick on Sideburn’s fifth album, Evil or Divine (on Metalville Records). The Swedish foursome’s latest shares more than just its titular reference in common with Dio — who, in addition to the lyric from “The Last in Line” had a live record with the same title – but keep a foot in doom territory throughout, drummer Fredrik Haake playing with metallic precision and an edge of swing as Morgan Zocek pulls out leads over “Sea of Sins.” The later “The Day the Sun Died” is particularly post-Ozzy Iommic, but Evil or Divine benefits from the kick in the ass that the penultimate “Evil Ways” seems only too happy to provide before “Presence” finishes on a hopeful note. Definitely more fist-pump than nod, Evil or Divine cries out to legions of the brave who want a thicker groove than modern metal is willing to provide without giving up the occasional cause to headbang.

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Metalville Records

Year of the Cobra, The Black Sun

year of the cobra the black sun

Seattle-based bass/drum duo Year of the Cobra had two labels pick up their debut EP, The Black Sun, between Devil’s Child Records and DHU Records, and they’ve signed to STB Records for the follow-up, so it seems safe to say their three-track outing has gotten a solid response. The songs make a compelling argument for why. With vocals that recall Soph Day from Alunah on opener “White Wizard” before delving into faster, more punkish fare on “The Black Sun” itself, Year of the Cobra serve immediate notice of a breadth in their sound, and the seven-minute wah-bass finale “Wasteland” enacts a low-end swirl that pushes even further out while keeping hold of itself via steady, tense drumming. That finisher is a particular high point, with bassist/vocalist Amy Tung Barrysmith self-harmonizing in layers over the steady build and drummer Johanes Barrysmith making sure the considerable tone keeps moving forward. Easy to hear why they’ve found such support in such a short time.

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Dark Hedonistic Union Records

Devil’s Child Records

STB Records

Drive by Wire, The Whole Shebang

drive by wire the whole shebang

The third long-player from Dutch four-maybe-five-piece Drive by Wire, The Whole Shebang gets more complex as it goes. Its first couple tracks, “Kerosine Dreams” [sic], “Woodlands,” “The Whole Shebang” and “Five Ft. High” are deeply indebted to desert rock circa Songs for the Deaf, tonally and even in some of Simone Holsbeek’s sing/talk call and responses on “Woodlands.” From there, “Rituals,” “In This Moment” and the moody “River Run” and “Promised the Night” push into more individual ground, and even though they tie it back together in the album’s third and final movement with “Rotor Motor,” “All Around” and “Voodoo You Do,” the context has changed, and by the time guitarist Alwin Wubben swells lead lines behind the verse of the closer, the fuzz of “Kerosine Dreams” is a distant memory. Completed by bassist Marcel Zerb and drummer Jerome Miedendorp de Bie, Drive by Wire wind up on a considerable journey, and while the title at first seems off-the-cuff, it works out to be a whole shebang indeed.

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Drive by Wire webstore

Akris, Fall EP

akris fall ep

Relaunched as a trio in the first half of 2015, Virginia trio Akris made a studio return with the four-song/32-minute Fall EP, which probably should’ve been called a full-length and probably should’ve been pressed to vinyl (paging Tony Reed to master and STB Records to release…), but the digital-only offering finds Akris and particularly founding bassist/vocalist Helena Goldberg anything but apprehensive as she, guitarist/vocalist Paul Cogle (Nagato, Black Blizzard) and drummer Tim Otis (Admiral Browning) follow-up the band’s raucous sans-guitar 2013 self-titled full-length debut (review here), balancing plodding grooves, melody and abrasion deftly atop rumble and riffs in “Forgiven” as Goldberg swaps between screams and grunge-styled croons. The subsequent “People in the Sky” is less patient, and caps its nine-minute run with a barrage of noise rock synth that continues at the start of closer “Alley Doorway” but ultimately recedes (momentarily) to let that song establish its own course of loud/quiet tradeoffs and resonant exploration. Unless Akris are planning a series of seasonal short releases, I see no reason why Fall EP shouldn’t be characterized as a second long-player and heralded for the bold expansion of the band’s approach it represents.

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Akris on Bandcamp

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