Saturday, May 15, 2010

Aura Noir - Deep Tracts of Hell

Aura Noir - Deep Tracts of Hell
Hammerheart, 1999


This album is nothing less than a black thrash masterpiece. In fact I think that I might embarrass myself in the course of this review by tripping over my own superlative adjectives. I fear, however, that there is really not much danger in making myself look like a fool when it comes to praising this great band. This is simply one of the best albums of the year.

What makes it so good? The raw unbridled passion, the anger and ferocity burned into the grooves of this album. This is so incredibly over the top in terms of savage power that it's stunning and eye-opening at the same time: Aura Noir make the rest of the scene look like they have been asleep through the '90s.

For those of you who don't know this band very well, it has mainly been said of them that they are trying to take the 'retro' sound of bands like Sodom and Destruction and bring that approach to metal into the present. I think that on their two earlier efforts, 'Dreams like Deserts" (what a great title) and "Black Thrash Attack" they crystallized that methodology, presenting us with music that was a faithful tribute to the '80s German bands. This is something else entirely. They have found their own voice now.

The two brothers-in-mayhem behind this beast, Apollyon and Aggressor, trade off song-writing and playing duties, switching instruments to give the personal touch to their own material. I believe that they have succeeded in creating a novel melodic identity here - the music references a lot of great metal bands, but really doesn't copy any of them. I think the only thing I could compare this to would be a darker and more homicidal version of early Voivod. If anything Aura Noir has only duplicated the violent energy of the great '80s thrash bands, bringing that blindingly fierce warrior spirit into the present day.

What struck me first about this album is the massive raw overdriven guitar sound - it sounds like it was recorded live, from right in front of the speaker cabinet of a vintage Marshall, and left without effects or processing of any kind. It is a work of art - pure raw seething distortion, crunching and chomping right and left. The drums are up front and in your face, splashing cymbal blasts and snare terrorism around your head. The vocals are snarling screams of deranged anger and hatred...like Motorhead at three times the speed and with much more potent drugs.

But the music is no longer Sodom worship in any way - Aura Noir have added a whole new level of sensibility to their writing, and created (I think) a new style with this release. The music is not black metal or death metal or even thrash...but somehow an amalgam of all three. The guitars don't follow any normal set pattern or thematic style at all, instead they effortlessly spit out riff after riff of inspired chromatic strumming or cruel chord battery, sometimes writhing in the grip of fierce spontaneous solos or sinking to tearing rhythmic slaughter. If I had to describe the riffing with one word I would say: 'gouging'. A lot of this sounds almost like it was recorded in one take with no prior rehearsals, as if the guitarists were just coming up with material while they were playing - but it is not disjointed or scattered. It all fits together perfectly beneath their perverse dark melodic vision.

What more is there to say? Go out and find this immediately...