Sunday, December 9, 2012

Aura Noir - Out to Die (2012)

For those unaware, Aura Noir are an extremely fucking good blackened thrash (or is that thrashened black?) metal band out of Norway, comprised of 3 ridiculously talented individuals that have shown their mettle in various other projects, with varying degrees of resounding success. Aggressor played in Satyricon and Ulver way back in the long long ago, likely before many of you were even born, but now rains fury on the world with the excellent Virus; Apollyon has another day job with Immortal; and perhaps most importantly/visibly, that ferocious bastard Rune Erikson, aka Blasphemer, of ex-Mayhem infamy, now key proponent of all things awesome in both Nader Sadek and Ava Inferi, the latter of which has a tendency to thrill and chill me right to the core with unique panoramas of eerie, forlorn majesty. This is their 5th full length as a unit in going on 20 years, but alas, only the second I’ve heard, having fallen head over heels with 2008’s Hades Rise, but not having had the time to dive into the murky leavings of their past… yet. To be brunt, in case long walls of text don’t jive with your Ritalin-addled brain, this album absolutely slays. If you’re in any way a fanatic of either of its constituent genres, of which I must tack on a spiritual channeling of classic extreme metal, such as Venom and Celtic Frost, or just plain strong metallic riffing, Out to Die is going to impress. Impress may be a bit of an understatement, I admit, as the aesthetic and composition here is so primally pleasing that it should leave fields of cowering posers practically evacuating their bowels with each sharp, muscular blast of riffing ordnance.

Of the above-listed groups, Aura Noir feel most heavily like heirs to the throne of Celtic Frost, though arguments could also be made for resemblance to newer Darkthrone. The dry, cutting gusts of riffing are like the sheering wind of some ancient desert, while the shouted vocals are nicely redolent of older Tom G Warrior, a gruff, kingly wraith commanding armies of the damned.  Though the overall core aesthetic of the genre here is blackened thrash, Aura Noir channel the strength of pure old-school heavy metal just as prominently. The barbaric strength of the riffing, the often pounding, war-like pacing, it balances all three of its chosen influences in perfect harmony. This lends further weight to the Celtic Frost argument, as they themselves did not seem to belong to any particular genre, instead utilizing various strengths from each and molding them into something altogether different, advancing each in its own way. While I wouldn’t say that Aura Noir are similarly groundbreaking, or really innovative at all, at that, it simply doesn’t matter when the songs are this good. Whether slicing along with icy blackened tremolo precision or stomping out a banner-waving, mid-paced war march, the combination of pure, excellent riffing and violent, swarthy, charismatic vocals paints a compellingly bleak, ravaged landscape that is just fucking punishing. I must also note that there are a number of fantastic soloes here.

I love the guitar tones; thin but searing, like bolts of hot iron slicing through the skin, or fiery winds cutting across the smoky skyline. In fact, the hugely natural production is quite befitting, with punchy, earthy drums and a good stringy pulse to the thankfully semi-audible bass. It doesn’t really favor the low end, but I have no complaints over sound quality here, a great means to communicate such monstrous, hellish patterns of notation. Out to Die rocks the fuck out for Satan, and if that’s something you’re into, beware the safety of your neck if you acquire it, as it’s liable to inflict severe headbang trauma. At 33 minutes, Out to Die is admittedly quite short, but it’s surprisingly varied in pacing, and remains consistently thrilling all the way through, even if it’s more fun in an immediate sense than it is eternally memorable. I also prefer to have a short record packed entirely with killer material, rather than a longer one with a nice dose of filler. If there’s one thing that holds the record back, it’s that as excellent as the riffing patterns are, they don’t burn into my spirit as perfection. This type of record lives and dies by its riffs, and the guitar work here is crazy good, but it’s not quite amazing to these ears. I’ve got to say though, it’s damn close.

Truly, Aura Noir are here to kick your ass, simultaneously blending aesthetics of vile extremity and embodying the aura of indomitable warrior strength that pervades the best releases of classic heaviness. It’s short, violent, disgusting, and ultimately grand as it batters along with conquering ferocity. Above all, perhaps the most fitting adjective I could foist upon it, like some brazen mantle, is that it’s undeniably fucking metal. It’s just absolutely, completely fucking metal, and that’s both its core strength and perhaps a perceived limitation, in case you’re a vagina. Admittedly, if you’re looking for complexity, depth, or subtlety, they are certainly in short supply here, and some of the patterns are more innately memorable than others, but if you’re looking to get thrashed, this will do it with passion and class, and it’s one of the best of its kind I’ve heard this year, and indeed ever. This is primarily due to the conjured aesthetic and to application of riffs, and more so than any other band, Aura Noir resurrects the dry, vile, pounding quagmire of To Mega Therion and Morbid Tales, modernizing that style without sacrificing any of the barbarous, decrepit spirit that made them so special to begin with. It feels uniquely its own, however, which is the difference between ‘heir’ and ‘pretender’, where this aforementioned throne is concerned. Out to Die may not be an epic, creative masterpiece commanding slack-jawed adoration, but what it does is slacken that jaw anyways with the force of an obsidian hammer, before commanding its undead legions to decapitate and sodomize your family, all for the fun of it. Yes, it’s absolutely metal, and an absolute blast of a listen.

8.75 / 10 - With Razors, With Will, With Fire