Ahvak Album Review & Audio Samples
2004 Cuneiform Records
Israel / USA
Ahvak at Prog Archives
Reviewed: Dec-24, 2003
Last update: Jan-30, 2006
Reviewer: Uri Breitman, Israel
It's not that hard to produce the most impressive progressive rock album ever made in Israel. There wasn't much competition in that field within this small, Middle-Eastern land. None the less, it IS a big deal to produce a debut album worthy of mention alongside the best of the international prog-rock scene. This album has been produced with no local label backup. There is no music label in Israel that is willing to finance such a bold band like "Ahvak" (Hebrew word for "Dust"), which is comprised of serious musicians who can't make an honest living from their art.|
The album "Ahvak" excells in two main elements: 1) Incredible use of cutting-edge studio wizardry, based on the latest in sound software; 2) Successful combination of tech-talent and composer-talent. It's a rare achievement, requiring careful balance -- technical know-how among the musicians, and musical knowledge from the technician's side (Udi Koomran).
Listening to the Avhak album, as a whole, is no ordinary experience of absorbing a few cute songs with some catchy melodies. It's a demanding journey, packed with adrenalin, through many different acoustic stations. This is no place for wimps: it's a lightning-fast voyage on a digital ghost-train, with your eyes closed, and without leaving your chair for one minute. The mix is packed with swarming effects and lightning-fast dynamic lines. The train takes a new turn every few seconds right into another dark tunnel. There are no "songs", no "singers", no verses and no choruses. "Ahvak" throws the listener right off the cliff -- so you better have wings, or you're gone.
Musically speaking, Ahvak's compositions are rooted in the European school of Modernism. That means dissonant chords, polyphonic lines, atonal harmonies, breaking of formal structures - and even a few minutes of obscure quality. If you can't tolerate any deviation from standard harmonies of pop culture, you may have trouble digesting what the Ahvak team cooked up for you - Dave Kerman (Drums, Percussion & Musical Production), Udi Koomran (Sound/Computer), Yehuda Kotton (Guitars), Ishay Sommer (Bass), Udi Susser (Horns & Keyboards) and Roy Yarkoni (Keyboards).
This band is capable of choosing musical motifs and developing them in unexpected tactics. The use of motifs is important to sustain a minimum of coherency, so the listener will not get lost in the action. Although the arrangements are highly dymanic, the motifs' "anchor" allows the brain to keep running after the notes even when they gallop bravely between several conceptual points that are fairly distant from one another. I recommend using headphones (hi-fi ones) in order to fully notice the nuances and surprises along the way. Here are some hints: a meowing cat, a fistachis salesman inside an amusement park, an old piano soundtrack taken from a silent picture, and more.
If you must compare Ahvak with other bands working in the modern world of prog-rock, then you can associate the group with the new generation of Rock In Opposition (RIO). Similar groups are Univers Zero, Thinking Plague and Miriodor. The Cuneiform label, the distributer of Ahvak, compares them also to Sotos and 5uu's. If you ask me, this last comparison is somewhat misleading, since Sotos's musical production and arrangements are quite conservative, while 5uus's composition skills are no match for the well-trained members of Ahvak. Yes, I know that Kerman is a member of both bands - I find his compositional skills lacking in comparison. It's fortunate that he wasn't involved in most of Ahvak's compositions, focusing on his strongest points: drumming & musical production, alongside Udi Koomran.
The 1st Ahvak track, "Vivisection" inserts the shocked listener into the morbid, twisted, sick, scary and multi-layered world of Ahvak. It's a difficult piece to grasp, perhaps trying to introduce the American customer into the Israeli ethnic feel - prog from the desert, if you will - or maybe "Sahara RIO"? There are some darabookas here (middle-eastern percussion) and eastern-based harmonies. The atmosphere is intriguing, uncompromising, and impossible to follow on your first listen. But It's not the best track on the album, so don't be quick to judge the rest that will follow.
The 2nd Ahvak track, "Bertha" (name taken from a large-calibre German artillery gun, used in the first world war), combines healthy instrumental prog energies and humorous break-ups of building musical tension. The Ahvaksters have some fun with a motif, throw it to all possible directions, demonstrating tight virtuosic playing. The piece begins and ends with a nice effect of a radio playing some folk music in a living room. The 3rd Ahvak track, "Moments" is a brief free-form chamber composition for piano and flute. It sounds arbitrary and over-improvised for my prog-headed ears. Moreover, it's not "produced", so the sound is very old-school. That's why I think it doesn't fit the album. Ahvak could have done without this short one.
The 4th track, "Ahvak" is the hallmark of the entire project. It's dark, long, complex and has huge symphonic depth to it. It reminds me of Univers Zero in the Heatwave era. The piece containes some dramatic motifs which are pretty intimidating, excellent harmonic development, a huge variety of musical production surprises, and a circular, "closed" structure which gives a deep sense of "long journey's end". Even Kerman's drums go through a few acoustic distortions (all made by computer), which make it sound like a machine gun. The band's playing is superb, all the musicians give it all they've got, the production supplies interest and tension in all the tricky passages, and the clear digital recording documents the piece perfectly. I don't usually go "Bravo" like a fanboy, but this track is one precious pearl of sound. Outstanding piece of music.
The 5th Ahvak track, "Cement" is a short piece for guitars and keyboards. It's a rare moment of normal, melodic peace-of-mind on the album. It's pleasent even for the un-trained ear. "Cement" ("Melet" in Hebrew) displayes a few nostalgic instruments (Fender Rhodes, Wah-Wah guitars etc.). Actually, it's a well-needed "breather" between the monumental 4th track and the 6th hard track, coming right up. This composition is by Yehuda Kotton, Ahvak's axe-man.
The 6th Ahvak track, "The Yawners", although not as focused and effective as the 4th track, holds some powerful moments, spine-chilling effects and intersting melodies. The piano and flutes, for example, go through Koomran's computer soundbox, and are treated in such an original way of thinking, that one is having trouble identifying them at all. The result is somewhat alienating, but always virtuosic, intriguing and packed with drama. I like the part where the band goes through a carousel, panning the listener through a stereo circle. Udi Susser's flute solo is nothing short than masterful, and Kerman smacks his drumkit like a hyperactive cave-troll. I used to think that his drumming was artificially paced...few musicians can punch that fast. The 7th and last Ahvak piece, "Pirzool" concludes the album with 55 seconds of pure noise, and I would gladly have deleted it from the CD final pressing, if technically possible.
Conclusion: Ahvak's debut album is a fine export from Israel, a pleasent surprise which shows great care and dedication, rich musical imagination and deep technological knowledge. It sets high standards which very few local bands will be able to surpass. Nothing on this album came easily: every second is a product & living proof of deep thought, care, learning and a keen will to surprise and shock. Although I would easilly remove those two short tracks (3 & 7) and replace the hedious cover art with something more definable, Ahvak is still the best prog-rock effort from Zion to date. It will probably NOT be appreciated well here in Israel, since the underground scene is achingly small in size, but that's fine: Ahvak's eyes are firmly fixed on USA, Europe and Japan - not Tel Aviv, Haifa or Jerusalem.
Final rating: 9.5 out of 10
Ahvak Live at France - Le Triton Festival Photo Gallery (2005)
Ahvak promo picture gallery (2004)
Sound samples from Ahvak's album (mp3, 40-50 sec. - Not CD Quality)