Aura Damage is an album that thrives on aesthetic. Like a sludgy, drawling, volcanic version of Behemoth, but pulling their own weight in terms of subterranean compositional tactics, Hell United escape such easily classifiable comparisons and enter their own noxious musical realm that is incredibly engaging in its propensity for shifting scenes of violence. This is a primal mixture of black and death metal infused with molasses and smoke, a veritable swamp of an album that flows through an interesting host of techniques and paces, all of them suffocating and consuming. The atmosphere is sickly and poignant, created by an incredibly fitting, purulent soup of a production, where the roiling bass lines envelop you like a psychoactive bog. They pulse out like venomous waves, slowly consuming you and lulling you into a coma, and just when you think you’re light is snuffed, they dial the intensity up to ten, and the guitars slice around you like a school of piranha, shredding your helpless skin as hallucinations take hold. Hell United pull off slow and fast paced material in equal magnitudes of quality, and everything in between, without ever releasing you from their menacing, monstrous grip.
There is a myriad of prevailing, intoxicating imagery that courses through Aura Damage’s rotten veins, virtually all of it glorious, albeit in a twisted, sick way that only the more violent black metal mavens and cavernous death metal trolls will truly appreciate. Every track has many distinct lines and patterns, each of them pretty equal in terms of overall memorability and engagement, if not in direct method of delivery. Above all, this is generally a record of swirling, bubbling brutality, but through this balancing act it remains fresh and poignant throughout. Opener Red Limitations spreads fiery wings and rains apocalyptic blast beat death upon the scarred fiefdoms of the weak, before slowing down into an apocalyptic war march that subtly shifts diabolical riffing patterns, serving to build up and usher in the following Apostles of Plague, another ruinous earthquake of a track. Hinterland builds a slow serpentine monument out of measured, evolving riff patterns, slathered in murky mist and oozing atmosphere. Maelstrom’s Gravity is a primeval force of conquering plague, utilizing a varying pace and swinging, diabolical riffs to incapacitate and dominate the enemy. Closer Totality of I is another clinic in atmospherics, creating a world so thick you can taste the psychopathy in its virulent walls of riffing.
Hell United hail from Poland, a true hotbed of quality extremity these days. As alluded to initially, there is a prevalent flavor of Behemoth here (circa Zos Kia Cultus), mostly in the more break-neck sections and the barking vocal delivery. However, let me qualify this by saying Hell United in no way feel like forgery, only that the conflagration of their riffing patterns evokes a similar feeling of ancient grandiosity. This is complimented by their opposing tendency towards slow, murky marshlands of musicality that twist multiple layers of notation into a bubbling, delicious morass of evil, comparable to the newer work from 1349, though decidedly more interesting. I was also reminded strongly at times of their countrymen Stillborn and Pandemonium here, both of whom wowed me this year with their latest material, and would be worth checking out if you enjoy this. Hell United have stirred many complimentary flavors into their sludge-fucked cauldron of blackened death debauchery, and the result is quite filling, given the record barely eclipses 35 minutes. In fact, I’d say that length feels just about right, as there is so much to digest here that a lengthy record would not have gone down quite so well. What truly makes the record so interesting, however, is not only the variety of paces, or the conjured mixture of tantalizingly toxic aesthetic, but the layering of the riffing at any given moment. Hell United have written hundreds of menacing, unsettling, and downright violent guitar and bass lines for this album, and proceeded to layer them in such a way as to often create an ever-shifting, ever-engrossing experience that feels very multi-dimensional. Each song is a living, pulsing, psychotic world unto its own, and this morphing textural integrity is what makes Aura Damage so thoroughly compelling and enjoyable.