I was wrong. I said things I shouldn't have. I was presumptuous; I was hasty. I retract previous comments. None before and none after can be this good. Akimbo has consistently slain one album per year since 2002. But never before has it been as explosive as Navigating the Bronze. Never before has it been this huge. Each previous album has been a step in the right direction, but there's something about Aaron, the way his guitar fits with Nat's drums and Jon's bass and screaming. Previous guitar players couldn't keep pace or were too based in punk to bring the fucking rock. Akimbo is operating as a well-oiled machine, and all the pistons are firing at the same speed.
The boys took these songs down to Louisville and had them tracked by Chris Owens, the dude from Lords who also records all of Lords' stuff. It also means that they took the jump to digital recording for this album. And it sounds huge. I mean, Akimbo is one of the loudest bands you could see live. They have double stacks for bass and guitar, leaving a wall of amplifiers to try and drown out Nat's huge kit and you can finally hear it on this album.
Shit kicks off with "You Can Smell the Honey," a basic straightforward hardcore riff that shows more of an SST influence than previous albums. In the middle it breaks down to some badass halftime noodling, and then goes back to kick your face in until the song ends and you can hear Jon say in the background "Aw, I almost shit my pants." We're with you, Jon. Up next is "Wizard Van Wizard" with some sweet ass classic rock riffage and a heavy drum shuffle intro. The most important part to note here is that the band has kept the energy and speed of releases like Elephantine and Harshing Your Mellow, but has brought along the experimentation and dynamics of City of the Stars and Forging Steel and Laying Stone. That means nothing to you if you haven't heard those Akimbo albums. It's okay. This is a good one to start with.
"Dungeon Bastard" comes next with a sludgy intro and some melodic mid-tempo chorusing. About three-fourths of the way into it, we get some killer spacey guitar effects. We've never gotten those before. Akimbo hasn't ever really been big on the ambient tip. "Huge Muscles" unmistakably has that lovely SST feel to it. If I had to pin down their hardcore influences, I'd chalk them closer to the high energy, loose Dead Kennedys -- but there's something very Black Flag about the oppressive straight eighth-noted riff that gets ya right down in the guy. It's hard really labeling them into one genre though, as Nat the drummer has said: "I consider Akimbo to be a rock band. Labeling us as hardcore, metal, or screamo (I fucking hate that one…) never really seemed to do it for me." Good point, Nat.
And speaking of Nat, up next we get "Roman Coins," a two-and-a-half-minute drum solo that lets Nat get all his Bonham out in one giant spurt. It kicks off with some double layering -- two sets playing slightly different rhythms, but breaks down into a full solo about a minute in. And it's well-deserved. Every song shows off some crazy new bass riff or guitar solo, but it's easy to lose the drums in all the noise. Bravo. And what better song to lead into than "Lungless," which starts out with the most simplified 4/4 beat and some crazy syncopated stop-time riff that plays to the rhythm of someone gasping for breath. It's truly monstrous. Which notes another new trend in the album -- Akimbo's always had witty song titles, but this time we get something of a more serious fare than "When I Am King I Will Spit on the Corpse of Ray Manzarek" or "Ground Control to Major Bummer," even if the latter is one of the best song titles I've ever heard in my life. When the song dies out, the riff becomes played at further apart intervals, the last gasping breaths of whatever poor creature that just got slaughtered.
"Megatherium" starts with a throwback to Harshing Your Mellow with a pre-recorded audio sample, this time a guy saying "You want to argue with him or you want to sell it? I guess he'd rather argue with him." A bit more controlled than the spastic "Huge Muscles," "Megatherium" shows off again the band's love for syncopation and odd time signatures without making it sound like math rock. But what blows me away every time is in the middle of the track, when it slows down and the guitar and bass take off into their own separate forays into neo-classical, highly melodic arranged soloing. It's like listening to the acoustic classical intros to a Black Sabbath track. Which was the last element of heavy metal that Akimbo had yet to incorporate somewhere. Bringing the album back down a notch is the slow-mo head-banger "Hiding in Paper," showing off the band's ability to riff at any speed.
Bear with me, we're almost there.
"The Curse of King David" blasts shit out your asshole with some heavy-swung Maiden or Sabbath-styled drum rhythms and some Middle Eastern flair to the badass riffage. I'm talking downtown! And to kill the album, another eight-minute track. This one's called "Stjerneborg," which I can only guess is some sort of Scandinavian city since the album seems to have this Viking theme running through it. And in classic Akimbo form, it's the only song that could ever end the album. They've always had a history of killing it on the last track, and "Stjerneborg" is no exception. Everything we talked about in all the songs leading up to it is present -- the bad-ass riffage; the use of dynamics and sweet guitar effects when appropriate; the tempo changes and time signatures; the patience shown by the band. Finally comfortable in the studio, they are able to draw a song out to the length that they want without feeling the need to make it spastic and bombastic at the same time. And even though the closer is amazing and kickass, it's not about the end of the album. When I interviewd Nat and Aaron, I asked Aaron where he'd like to see the band go, and he gave me this response:
"I dunno. It's like the theme of the new album… It's more of a journey thing than a destination thing."
You know what that means, motherfucker. Start that shit again and keep listening to it until you puke. Otherwise I'll come down there and make you puke.
Head on over to my website, Bitter Press, for an exclusive stream of the song "Huge Muscles," as well as streams of two other songs made available on their MySpace page.