For fans of the brand of avant rock proudly flagshipped by acts like Univers Zero and Art Zoyd, Ahvak should be an exciting prospect. Based in Israel and brought to life with the drive of Thinking Plague drummer Dave Kerman, Ahvak’s blend of avant-garde rock and jazz fusion should make for a familiar and welcome sound to fans of any of the aforementioned bands. Falling in between the playfulness of Zappa, the oppressive rhythmic tendencies of RIO and the instrumental virtuosity you would expect from any band that dares go beyond the traditional call of progressive rock, these guys demonstrate a lot of potential on their first album, a potential sadly held back by patchy compositions and a dry take on experimentation.
For all of their musical variety and spontaneous shifts, Ahvak’s individual compositions don’t have a great deal of unique colour to them. Of them, the opener “Vivisektzia” feels like their most realized and full-rounded piece here, a sporadic and wobbling composition that travels across the map from uneasy ambiance to noisy chaos. Another surprising highlight is”Regaim”, a jarring, atonal interlude that pays respect to the modernistic style of Morton Feldman and Bela Bartok. The title track “Ahvak” is arguably the most ambitious piece on the album, built around a slow, gloomy motif that reminds me of the legendary Zeuhl band Shub-Niggurath. On these and the other tracks (possibly excluding the closer “Pirzool”, a puzzling minute of muffled yelling that feels unnecessary), there are interesting ideas aplenty. Melody is never a priority for Ahvak. The compositions are dense, often skirting the unfamiliar boundary between jazz, rock and classical music. Ahvak never cease to let up the experimentation, and while this consistent weirdness should keep attentive listeners on their feet, it lacks a satisfying sense of surprise. Without some much-needed recurring themes and motifs to ground and feed the listener, the music comes off as sporadic and patchy, and can be prettty difficult to get into as a result.
Ahvak’s playfully eerie atmosphere is one shared by many bands of their ilk. The composition of the work offers plenty of room for the musicians to experiment at their leisure, and the textures used may come across as cartoonish or silly to those not often exposed to this corner of music. Even so, these lighthearted traits are only deceptively so, as the atmosphere or ‘vibe’ is almost always unsettling. It’s often engaging, but never emotionally so. Like so many bands that fly under the progressive rock banner, Ahvak have plenty of technical skill and artistic ambition, but their dry approach keeps it from ever hitting me on a gut level.
1. Vivisektia (8:30)
2. Bherta (8:25)
3. Regaim (2:41)
4. Ahvak (16:21)
5. Melet (2:53)
6. Hamef Ahakim (13:32)
7. Pirzool (0:58)
* Yehuda Kollon – guitars
* Ishay Sommer – bass
* Udi Susser – keyboards, woodwinds, vocals, baglama, darbooka
* Roy Yarkoni – keyboards, piano
* Dave Kerman – drums, percussion
* Udi Koomran – computer