Heavy music has some peerless blends, from black / death metal to stoner / sludge. Though strangely less common, the black / thrash metal subgenre boasts plenty of iconic performers. It’s a wide and debatable net that scoops up acts as divergent as Bathory, Voivod and Slayer in its universe.
Aura Noir, one of the forefathers of the sound, is owed some credit for lighting that flame and, to a degree, keeping it going. Especially with their latest Aura Noire. However, such can’t necessarily be judged by quantity, but rather quality.
The Norwegian group has been at it since 1993. Their scarce output – nine demos / full-length albums in about 25 years, with five of those coming between 1993 and 1998… yes, math nerds, that’s only four over a 20-year span – has hardly killed interest in Aura Noir. Such is largely on the strength of bandleader Carl-Michael Eide, better known as Aggressor, whose resume includes the likes of Cadaver, Satyricon, Ulver and many other bands. A 2005 accident that put Aggressor in a wheelchair, after allegedly jumping from a fourth floor window, only added to the mystique. Aura Noir’s thin discography is thus understandable. In addition, Aggressor and bandmates, whom we’ll get to in a moment, are very busy guys.
From the opening riffs of “Dark Lung of the Storm,” it is evident that Aura Noir’s members bring their considerable experience to bear. As you get into this release, the band’s first album since 2012’s bristly and venomous Out to Die, it is hard to avoid the revival of sorts that has been underway in the last year or so for late-1980s’ to mid-1990s’ death metal, thrash and black metal. Bands like Electric Wizard aptly demonstrated long before that there is a palatable hunger for vintage music (2000’s Dopethrone and 2004’s We Live are among the hallmarks of the hard rock / metal renaissance here). Thrash and black metal have been no exception, with several convincing newcomers coming up to champion the glory days. In Aura Noire, you hear a sound that is certain to sate interest in this reboot. Regardless, there’s an inherent streak of danger here as well. We’re in an era where plenty of groups several decades in soldier on with one original member and end up like Gang of Four – putting out atrocious music that desecrates our collective memories in the process. How one strikes the right balance of old-school power with new-school consciousness is far harder than it looks. Nevertheless, Aura Noir’s new release, and its timing for a return, feels impeccable.
Aggressor, Ole “Apollyon” Jørgen Moe and Rune “Blasphemer” Eriksen have been together since virtually the beginning of the band. You hear what this sort of synchronicity in a group sounds like in a track like “Shades Ablaze” – hefty drums feed on the savage guitar chords, cresting with Aggressor’s signature vocals performed by a group that has logged countless hours together. Like Aggressor, Apollyon (Immortal, Dødheimsgard, selected vocals for Gorgoroth and Darkthrone) and Blasphemer (Mayhem, Twilight of the Gods, Ava Inferi) have played in their share of iconic bands. Those commitments, in fact, explain why Aura Noir’s catalog is not as robust as one might expect from such prolific artists. With the wicked mic work on “Mordant Wind,” you are reminded why the wait was worth it.
The trio is strongest in songs like “Grave Dweller” and “Hell’s Lost Chambers,” which reflect ably a keen ear to where thrash is today as well as the sophisticated efforts in the lineup. The instrumentation is technically sound, sharply produced and each member’s parts are superlatively executed. “Cold Bone Grasp” is but one instance where the feral, cantankerous chords intercut turbulent drums and provide the sonics for Aggressor’s successor-to-Lemmy’s-throne ruggedness. As you experience in tracks such as “Demonic Flow,” there is absolutely no substitute for seasoned performers playing to their strengths. Thus the music feels fresh, alive and ferocious as only musicians of this pedigree can offer.
From a purely thrash metal standpoint, though, there is much to like. Aura Noir does, as it has in the past, a very clean sound. Whereas much thrash has salted hardcore and death metal into what it does, Aura Noire is a pristine affair. It manages to be precise and uncompromising without getting grimy. One can only hope those aforementioned newcomers are taking good notes.