If you want to make it look as if your smartphone has been possessed by unspeakably evil spirits, just play this album through those tiny, shitty speakers, crank it up, and stand back. Gorod vocalist Julien Deyres sounds positively demonic on opening track “Wolfsmond.” Right there, right fucking there, he delivers one of the best performances of his entire career. Behind that standout series of roars, screams, and growls, the rest of Gorod set up some disgustingly awesome riffs, arpeggios, riffs, chords, grooves, riffs, melody lines, and riffs.
“Wolfsmond” is not a progressive metal track you’ll easily forget. You can play it back over and over, and it won’t wear out for quite a while. In the past, Gorod have often come under fire for being somewhat lacking in the songwriting department—but Aethra immediately shows that they’ve been working hard at the drawing board, and their efforts have paid off.
That’s why “Wolfsmond” is such a relief—and it’s also why the vast majority of Aethra disappoints just as quickly. Fans of Gorod and Between the Buried and Me both seem to hate seeing connections and comparisons drawn between those bands, but they’re unavoidable here. Really, they have been for a long time anyway. There’s no point in beating around the bush: Gorod spend large portions of this album sounding like a second-rate BTBAM, a few sections aping Protest the Hero, and most of the remainder of Aethra resorting to generic ideas. Those ideas lack the imagination and inventiveness that made Gorod so great in the past, and the passion behind the performances drops noticeably from the moment “Wolfsmond” ends – with a few notable exceptions, such as the intro to advance track “The Sentry”.
Fortunately, that energy does pick up again as closer “A Light Unseen” nears its conclusion. Hearing Gorod push themselves to their limits is a thrilling experience, and at that point, they hit a new peak. It does leave a listener wanting more, however.
Even for a band as technically accomplished as Gorod, that’s a big and potentially unreasonable ask – but if anyone can pull it off, they can. Behind the music and lyrics, this album’s concept – which concerns lunar deities, cults, and associated mythology – sounds promising, but the actual recorded material doesn’t do it justice. When listening to and evaluating Aethra, it’s also important to bear in mind that Gorod guitarist and founding member Mathieu Pascal made some bold and commendable attempts to push this project into a new creative territory.
In Pascal’s own words, “The writing process was exceptionally short, only six weeks,” and although “more spontaneous and song-oriented music with clear and efficient structures” were prioritized here, Aethra does sound like a rush job. On “Wolfsmond,” Pascal’s vision is masterfully realized. The rest of Aethra will doubtless engage tech-death die-hards and see battle lines drawn with freshly spilled blood across the metal community, but it represents a false start rather than a classic masterpiece penned in a month and a half.