Bands like Aura Noir serve an important purpose in the world of extreme metal. You see, before the late-80s, the categorization system hadn't quite evolved yet to parse metal sounds into "death metal," "black metal" and so on. You just had the mainstream stuff, thrash and stuff that sounded like really violent thrash. Several bands, from Sepultura and Sarcófago in Brazil, to Celtic Frost and Bathory on the European continent, had this extra something going on. Yes, there were fast riffs and killer drums, but the attitude wasn't quite like that of Overkill or Exodus. To put it metaphorically: ditch the high top sneakers and blue jeans for bullet belts and upside-down crosses. Aura Noir keeps this spirit alive by fitting within the thrash universe while still keeping it weird.
And man do they keep it weird on this album. It actually took me several listens to get into this album. I really didn't like it at first. My previous experience with Aura Noir was limited to the classic Black Thrash Attack and the more straightforward black metal fury of Deep Tracts of Hell. Those expecting an album full of easily remembered breakneck speed riffs and out-of-control screaming: do some mental palette cleansing before diving into this one (with the exception of "The Obscuration").
Why didn't I like it right away? A lot of the riffs seemed awkward and off-putting, and their combinations with the vocals sounded unnatural. Apollyon's lyrics were weird too: the refrain of "flanked by the ash of distant apocalypse" on "Grave Dweller" isn't exactly the easiest thing to shout over and over again at the front of the crowd.
But not all of our favorites are immediate wins. After all, Celtic Frost's Morbid Tales is now one of my favorite albums of all time, but I used to think it was boring, weird and awkward-sounding (especially "Visions of Mortality"). Once I grew to an addiction-level love of the album, I realized that its strength was that it was weird and didn't quite sound like anything else. And thus I feel the same way about Aura Noire. And yes, it does sound A LOT like Celtic Frost, especially To Mega Therion and Into the Pandemonium.
The real virtue of this album is its ability to evoke an anxious sense of being on the edge of chaos until it finally rewards your senses by tossing into the maelstrom in the brilliant second half. "Demoniac Flow" kicks off the drama with the Overkill-style double bass as "the great canyon roars!" The descending notes on "Shades Ablaze" perfectly capture the fiery ferocity black thrash demands, and the band wisely repeats this section, thus making it the album's best and most memorable song.
Of the album's longer songs, "Mordant Wind" is a more rewarding listen than "Hell's Lost Chambers," if only because of these lines: "The tangible fabric / of pure magnificence / truly fictitious / like your tender glare" (I think I got that right). And before the jangly "Outro" closes the album, the band gifts us one last time with the teeth-baring glory of "Cold Bone Grasp."
So for those of you that like your black thrash weird, you'll love this album right away. If, however, your mind seeks out ear-candy riffs and immediately memorable verses and choruses, have some patience. Fear not, these sons of Hades may have carved out a winding path here, but it's still the beautiful, darkest path.
Favorite Songs: "Shades Ablaze," "Grave Dweller," "Mordant Wind," "Cold Bone Grasp," and "Demoniac Flow"