Finding the musical balance between delicate emotion and hard aggression is a fine art. Many artists overlook the nuances and subtleties of such a challenge, but this Ohio based heavy prog band named Akula are showing some promise with the recent release of their self-titled debut through Hellmistress Records in late September. Jeff Martin’s impassioned voice climbs over the foreboding rumblings of Chris Thompson and Sergei Parfenov on guitars, while Scott Hyatt’s thick bass tone reinforces the pounding rhythms of Ronnie Miller on drums, forming the dark and driving essence of Akula. Having only formed in 2016, their debut is thoroughly impressive. The added experience of Martin and Thompson already playing for the hard rock band called Lo-Pan only serves to expand the range and capacity of of the five-piece. At first glance, the four-song track-list might seem lacking; but since every song is longer than 9 minutes, you’ll begin to realise that the true depth lies in the journey of each song.

Beginning the album with a bang is the intensely evocative “A Pound of Flesh”, carrying heavy riffs while Martin’s vocals lend a strangely poignant aftertaste to the song. Thompson and Parfenov’s guitars reflect their prog influences, blended in with their own unique depth and technique. The ponderously ominous outro leaves listeners wondering what is next to come.

“Force Me Open” opens with a complex and striking little riff, While Martin’s vocals deepen to match the moody ambience. Miller displays his flair on drums with quick-fire fills during the verses and snappy kicks to bolster the already gritty sounds being laid down by the rest of the band. The song takes an interesting turn around the 6-minute mark, with rolling guitars driving a new type of strength and menace, ensuring that the monolithic track loses no steam.

Akula continue the dusky vibe with a “Born of Fire”. The intro alone conjures up pitch-black emotions and images to the mind, before the unsettling sounds drift into a low-tuned and surprisingly chuggy guitar riff. Hyatt’s bass is audible beneath the guitars as his heavily distorted sound overflows with malevolence. This song wanders the line between tragic sentiment and a deep fury in a way that envelops the listener in a range of emotions from start to finish.

With a huge duration of 12 minutes, the closing song called “Predators” takes its time to build momentum, striding along slowly in a more relaxed way than the previous songs, before the guitars kick into a deeply robust riff to guide the song into heavier territory. “Predators” Is the perfect culmination of everything the band have been striving to achieve, a perfect landscape of stormy sounds that are crushing in their weight and intricacy of evolution.

In just under 40 minutes, Akula have delivered a truly heartfelt and moving first release. Right from the beginning, the band presented a clear and concise idea of what they were trying to achieve musically. The length of each track only highlights their fearlessness when it comes to exploring any and all progressive aspects of their sound, while the music itself boasts a sombre and ethereal maturity that far exceeds all expectations for a band so fresh off the mark. Personally, I found their album to be surprising departure from what I’ve come to expect from prog bands; instead of focusing on intricate time signatures, the band decided to peruse the realm heavy emotion and depth of sound to great effect. But then again, I don’t think that Akula can be considered to be part of just one genre; their sound touches on several different techniques and influences that were combined in perfect harmony. This is an exciting release from an equally exciting band, and I can’t wait to see what the Ohio boys have in store for us yet! Buy the album either as gorgeous limited edition vinyl, CD or digital download from Hellmistress Records here: https://hellmistressrecords.com/