Jens Gad is responsible for the New Age dancepop sound of Enigma, so it doesn't come as a great shock that Achillea fits the same profile.
Sadly Achillea's debut "The Nine Worlds" -- presumably named after the worlds of Norse legend -- ends up being an ethereal experience. In fact, it seems a bit more interested in being ethereal than actually being music of any kind, and ends up a spotty, schizophrenic hodgepodge instead.
After a forgettable intro, Achillea's music unfolds into the hymnlike pop song full of vaguely bubbling noises, bird cries and a general feeling of drippy pastoral peace. Then it switches into some downtempo pop rhythms, punctuated by horns and some swoony whispering noises in the background.
The name of this peaceful little tune? "Ragnarok - Twilight Of The Gods." Not quite how I imagined the Norse armageddon to sound.
That tells you quite a bit about the album -- no matter how dark the subject matter, it's always going to stick to the pretty, sunny electronica. It does darken around the edges in "Odin's Hill," with some grimy guitar and dark synth, and the title track is a sort of dark Gregorian chant.
But after that it switches back to the reigning sound of this album -- blippy shimmery electronica, wrapped around tissue-thin melodies and lots of melodramatic female vocals, flavoured with some delicate flute, bamboo percussion, birdsong, digeridoo and a host of nature noises.
In theory, "Nine Worlds" is an excellent idea. Norse legend is rich with elves, gods, mystical rune-readers and the multiple worlds filled with beauty and peace. Unfortunately, Achillea will have to try a bit harder if they want to do justice to that idea.
The biggest problem with "The Nine Worlds" is that while Achillea does some pretty music, it never decides what it wants to be. Gad blends the sounds of ambient, pop, guitar-pop and New age music in a halfhearted manner. But no style dominates, and there's really no flow to anything that happens here -- instead, pop melodies and New Age trappings are scattered haphazardly over ambient melodies, sometimes at random.
As a result, many of the songs are kind of forgettable; "Land of the Elves" is basically a long string of whispers and hesitant guitar plucks. Those guitars are perhaps the most solid part of the entire album -- although their grittiness grates with the ethereality, many portions of the electronica are background noise at best. It's like trying to shape fog.
There are some nice vocals here -- the title track has somnolent male vocals that sound like a chorus of monks, but most of the vocals are done by Helene Horlyck. Her voice is pretty and strong, soaring out songs in Swedish and Latin. Although in some songs she gets a bit melodramatic in her singing style.
Achillea pretty clearly strives to be another Enigma, but doesn't seem able to make up its mind about how mystical electronica should sound. Here's hoping they figure it out.