Saturday 17 January 2015

Aktor - Paranoia (Album Review)

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 20/02/2015
Label: High Roller Records

Paranoia’ CD//LP// track listing:

01. Devil and The Doctor
02. Gone Again
03. Stop Fooling Around
04. Too Young Die
05. Six Silver Suns
06. I Was the Son of God
07. Something Nasty
08. Where is Home
09. Never Ending No
10. The Mover


In a world of collaborations and compromises, AKTOR achieves these ends by sustaining a respectful silence between its creative contributors: avant-garde serialists Jussi Lehtisalo and Tomi Leppänen in Pori, Finland, and across the Atlantic in Chicago, heavy metal singer/songwriter Professor Black.

All in all, one could say that AKTOR plays Top 40 Heavy Metal with a delicious psychedelic flair that may one day have some fans in common with Sandy Perlman, Alan Davey, and/or Roky Erickson. Truthfully, AKTOR’s origins are uncertain and its intentions unspecified, and its music and process are accordingly unconceptual and a perhaps bit tense. Yet the outcome has much in common with the premeditated, synthetic pop music that has dominated airwaves since the 1980s. The lyrical narrative is similarly accessible on the surface, despite its protagonist(s) speaking from altered and/or incomplete states of being.

Aktor is:

Professor Black | Vocals, Bass
Tommi Leppänen | Drums
Jussi Lehtisalo | Guitars


This is getting ridiculous. 2014 saw two full length albums from Chris Black: the High Spirits solo project back in April and Dawnbringer’s newest album ‘Night of the Hammer’ in October, which I reviewed here. When I had a chance to ask him some questions following up on my review, he hinted that there was more to come sooner rather than later; and he wasn’t kidding. Black, along with Finnish collaborators Jussi Lehtisalo (drums) and Tommi Leppänen (guitars) have come up with what will be Black’s third full length within a twelve month span. At least in this case, the bulk of the song writing has been carried by Lehtisalo and Leppänen, with Black focusing more on vocal melodies and bass contributions.

Aktor, in only the most general terms, has more in common with High Spirits’ ‘You Are Here’ than ‘Night of the Hammer’ in that it’s generally more upbeat and high-energy, but there’s a lot more going on, and that’s the brilliance of ‘Paranoia’: you could point to dozens of different musical points of reference as the album wears on and they all flow together beautifully. You could cite influences as diverse as Hawkwind, MC5, Devo, Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo circa ‘Forbidden Zone’, Danzig, Saxon and plenty more from there. Depending on where you’re at in the album you’d be dead on. A band with such diversity while still remaining cohesive and instantly recognizable is sadly harder and harder to come by, but Aktor meets that bar with ease.

A big chunk of the credit for what makes this album so irresistible is the ingeniously simple synth leads. They act as a kind of non-lingual backup singer, both playing into and dancing around Black’s vocal melodies, rarely taking a back seat to provide blanket atmosphere, which is so often the case in other bands.  It’s particularly effective in the album’s second half, where songs like “I Was the Son of God”, “Where is Home”, “Never-Ending No”, and “The Mover” all rely on synth accents to drive those songs over the line from really good to fantastic. It also helps give Aktor a unique sonic identity; its equal parts old sci-fi movie soundtracks and classic hard rock and heavy metal nostalgia. “The Mover” in particular shows that even when the ‘Paranoia’ gets a bit moody; the results are no less addictive.

Even songs without a prominent synth presence are usually top quality. “Six Silver Suns” is a real headbanger; smashing Saxon, Danzig and KISS into one and other with some floating, melodic lead guitar work to really put it over the top. “Something Nasty”, is a high-energy rager from the first note, with an immaculate chorus, like something out of The Hellacopters’ early 2000s material; complete with some wrist-ruining tamborine driving the percussion end of things.

It should go without saying, but I love this album. It’s hard to say for certain at this point, but of the three Chris Black projects that have released albums in the last year, Aktor’s ‘Paranoia’ is likely my favorite of the bunch, and that’s no faint praise. It’s also worth emphasizing that this album sets the bar very high for the rest of the albums coming out later this year. You’d do well to give this a listen regardless of your musical proclivities.

Words by: Daniel Jackson

You can pick up a CD/LP copy here.

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