Saturday, May 15, 2010

Aurora Borealis - Northern Lights

Aurora Borealis - Northern Lights
2000, Nightsky Productions

Here we have the latest release by one of North America's premier underground death metal talents, the elusive and strangely underrated Aurora Borealis. It is bizarre, to me, that this band has had to struggle in the shadow of other musical entities inferior to it for so long - why the obstinacy and blindness on the part of American labels, if not the entire worldwide scene? Why wasn't this band signed to Relapse, for example? Founding member Ron Vento (he of the fluent fingers), along with fellow extreme musician and Nile/Hate Eternal/Council of the Fallen skinsman Derek Roddy, are not content, at any one time during the course of this album's scant thirty-two and a half minutes, to rest on their laurels - the proceeds or accolades of a previous full-length and mini-album - and compose anything resembling lackadaisical or listless music...this is furious, cataclysmic, technically advanced, pure American death metal: lean, mean, and unmistakably savage. As such, it seems to cry out in defiance of the low place on the American scene totem pole it has been given so far in its existence...but who cares, really? Anyone who does not have the fortitude to look beyond their mainstream metal magazines and peer into the true underground does not deserve the delights that await hardier souls there. Besides, this band has finally been signed (and by an European label - typical), or at least that is what I have heard...

So what is Aurora Borealis all about? I hesitate to call this 'technical death metal', even though there is something of a tradition now in this kind of terminology, and besides, if it isn't 'technical' at this late stage in the development (or decadence, you decide) of the death movement, it is usually not worth even listening to. Of course it's 'technical', of course it's blindingly fast, of course it's grim - 'death' guitarists now have a decade of unsmiling European black metal to contend with when it comes to their influences or the taste of the scene. So, in this sense, Aurora Borealis isn't really original at all. But these are truly minor matters if the music can carry one's mind to the farthest shore nevertheless, and I find these compositions to be worthy in that respect...they are flawless in execution and do not attempt anything out of their reach, and so they flatter my sense of style and form - as a musician I agree with their simple structures. The melodies are evocative enough - at certain points - to set me dreaming, even though Aurora Borealis, like the majority of death bands today, is more concerned with rhythmic complexity than melodic expression. Fine. Besides, I gave up on melodic originality within the death metal scene a very long time ago. All one can really hope for now is a songwriting ability on the part of the guitarists that doesn't pander to the lowest common denominator (gore metal), or the abysses of downtuning, gutteral vocals, indecipherable medical terminology, and shock tactics. What I still appreciate are death metal artists that strike out on paths of their own, defying, in some respect, the heartily conformist nature of the genre, and allowing themselves at least a modicum of self-expression in their music. Aurora Borealis are like this - or at least they seem to be on the path towards a more selfish, petulant, solipsistic, creative nature - meaning originality in the labyrinths of subjectivity. I wish they would be ignored even further, if that led to them ignoring, in return, the rest of the stagnant death metal scene. In order to carve a creative, vital, original sound out of one's internal life, it is necessary to...turn away...

But it is important that you, reader, do not think that I am chastising this band in any way. No, this music is entertaining me as I sit here and listen to it - I am not bored, really, in any major way, and so why should I complain? Aurora's forte is a blasting highspeed riff, all flare and fingers flying, the cymbals on Roddy's kit shaking loose of their moorings, and the eyes of the two musicians rolling back in their is a trebly screaming in the guitars, a combination of high string tones and the chaotic whirlwind of the drumming, the thin snarl and snapping bite of the vocals, darkly caustic and drenched in acid, weaving tales of bitter destiny and archaic mythologies of razors left frozen in the snow. Most of all it is an organic (never robotic or mechanized) maelstrom of lifeless, alienating, anti-human, arctic (as you would expect) melodies...the calculations of a distant race who watch mankind with a bemused and callous indifference, spinning out their cruel epics with an eye on the sharpness of their steel blades. Is this a contradiction in terms? Perhaps...but what the death metal scene needs right now are more contradictions, more loose ends...I only hope Aurora Borealis will keep their eyes on the further development of their own idiosyncrasies. This is recommended.