The grand differentiation between Aura Noir and the legion of black/thrash bands that cropped up before, and after, has always boiled down to the riffs and thier relationship with second wave black metal. There was already a lineage of groups like Törr, Sabbat, and Sarcófago born from Venom, Bathory and Motörhead influence that had extended into a ‘second generation’ of more extreme black/speed metal. It wasn’t until ’94-’95 that a veritable arms race saw releases from a new third generation of black/thrash metal crossovers that’d been gestating as second wave black metal exploded across Europe. This was a heavier, darker thrash additionally influenced by Sodom, Kreator, and Slayer and resulted in incredible releases from Nifelheim, Absu, and Deströyer 666 in 1995. The need for variation beyond increasingly nerdy keyboard-tickling black metal had quickly made black metallers self-conscious enough to re-source their inspirations. Aura Noir was an early standout within a sparse world-spanning trend of those continuing along the ‘true’ path of black metal in it’s lineage from satanic 80’s heavy/punk metal in the mid-90’s. To this day their music is satisfying in it’s structural refinement, inspired riffs, and through small tweaks remains tonally relevant to the modernity of black metal.
Formed by the drummer from early Ulver and Ved Buens Ende releases and the guitarist/vocalist of (forever on hold) Norwegian doom metal group Lamented Souls, Aura Noir‘s 1994 demo was essentially Ved Buens Ende-ish but perhaps drunk and lyrically upset about sluts. The thrashing riffs of the band wouldn’t really kick into gear until the very noisy and wild ‘Dreams Like Deserts’ EP in 1995. The EP has been torn apart by writers since, with cries afoul of ‘stolen riffs’ and all that but in all honesty that all rings as petulance from transitional listeners who’re moonlighting in metal until they realize they prefer prog-rock to riffs. 1996 was a tough ball-pit to stand out in as a mountain of black/thrash exploded with Desaster, Occult, Bewitched, Abigail, and Deathwitch all bringing some measure of Teutonic and bestial thrash with a black metal aesthetic or vocalization. The black metal scene cried ‘poser’ hard at most of these bands but Aura Noir‘s ‘Black Thrash Attack’ holds up well to this day within the pile of ’96 black/thrash releases. Cleverly naming their album as such, Aura Noir smartly directed metalheads to instantly think of their name when culling interest for black/thrash metal permutations to come.
‘Black Thrash Attack’ featured the addition of Rune Erickson on guitars and the project had largely formed into something worthwhile and coherent at that point. They’d more or less resembled Darkthrone covering Kreator and old Megadeth tracks and outside of Desaster‘s Destruction-influenced riffs they were the least disappointing release coming off the ’96 black/thrash ‘splosion. The project didn’t seem like serious business until ‘Deep Tracts of Hell’ was released in 1998 with an even more meaningful mixture of Norwegian black metal aesthetics and sound with thrash riffing that landed somewhere between Mayhem, Merciless, and Celtic Frost. Sure, black/thrash was still a bit cheap across the board in 1998 but Aura Noir weren’t a joke-ass metal parody as was the case withsome of their compatriots at the time. I personally didn’t really warm up to the band’s sound until ‘The Merciless’ in 2004 as it’s use of Celtic Frost-isms had finally perked up and the production was better balanced.
In the meantime their efforts and friendships had spun out into member’s side-gigs in Cadaver, Dødheimsgard, Mayhem, and Aggressor‘s Voivod-esque avant-metal/rock project Virus had kicked off with a first album. From this point it seemed like the purpose of Aura Noir had largely been served or at least mutated into something strangely trend-happy. ‘Hades Rise’ capitalized on their Celtic Frost-ed black metal sound with what I’d consider a slow and generic black n’ roll record that coincided with Darkthrone‘s similar new shift in sound. It was a snooze fest and you could hear them yanking their shit back into thrash on ‘Out to Die’ in 2012. It was tough to see trendsetters having to rediscover their place within the generations iterated sound of their own trend but ‘Out to Die’ was smartly curated with a fast thrashing pace, tons of Aura Noir appropriate riffs, and I personally heard a lot more Destruction in the guitar work alongside a distinctly early 80’s US speed metal bent in tone and approach. It was something different and I was thankful that the band hadn’t settled into the blandness of ‘Hades Rise’.
With Aura Noir resembling an old-fashioned side-project before their six year break between releases I wasn’t sure what to expect from ‘Aura Noire’. In fact I was less than excited to fire it up because I felt like Hell’s Headbangers’ release line-up for the last several months has slaughtered black/thrash to it’s highest point with variants from Midnight, Whipstriker, and Communion. ‘Aura Noire’ is a bit different though as their aggro-Tom G. Warrior vocals aim for something that reminds me of early Voivod as much as the guitar work recalls Hallow’s Eve and even Slayer‘s ‘Show No Mercy’. In many ways it represents a refinement of ‘Out to Die’ but with Apollyon‘s guitar work steering towards the early 80’s and the small pool of Venom influenced speed metal of the era with plenty of wailing guitar solos.
Placing this project back in 1994 and hearing their old demos it seems like ‘Aura Noire’ finds the band looking back at their various influences and rekindling thier most worthy strengths as their Voivod and Venom noise-rocked clangor spins into moments of Celtic Frost throughout. Though it isn’t a retro release or even all that typical for Aura Noir outside of the ‘Frost-ed sound instilled since ‘The Merciless’, as the guitar work feels like it is lifted away from ‘At War With Satan’/’To Mega Therion’ and sets itself a few steps towards the jank of ‘Rrröööaaarrr’. This style makes tracks like “Dark Lung of the Storm” and “Demoniac Flow” pretty exciting in terms of the guitar work and though I’m left without a ton of really shredding thrash riffs to write home about, the guitar work here is as effective and spontaneous as the playing I’d hailed on Whipstriker‘s ‘Merciless Artillery’ earlier this year. That spirit of early 80’s Venom and their Motörhead adjacency largely escapes a pure thrash description on ‘Aura Noire’ and that will either be a great unexpected draw, or some small detractor, for longtime fans. The closest it comes to ye olde intensity is probably “Shades Ablaze” which feels like it could be pulled from the B-side of Sarcófago‘s ‘Rotting’ were it recorded in ’83.
If Aura Noir‘s movement away from their Darkthrone-isms towards something more purely 80’s post-NWOBHM black metal is something you’ve followed closely then this is the best version of the project as they refocus the thrashing intensity of ‘Out to Die’ towards intense early 80’s speed/heavy metal. If you want the wailing, garbled vocals and Teutonic thrash riffs of their early work this might sound like the flapping of clipped wings. I have been largely indifferent towards Aura Noir‘s music for quite some time yet I find ‘Aura Noire’ play off the previous album well and I love the guitar tone and sort of rawked-out but intense 80’s vibe of the soloing and riffs. This one is definitely for the first-wave black metal fan who also loves the specific weirdness it inspired within speed metal worldwide. I enjoyed frantic sound in general and the guitar work is exceptionally good. Worth trying even if you’re not a diehard fan.
|Released||April 27, 2018|
|Preview on YouTube||Follow Aura Noir on Facebook|
Speed Metal, Heavy Metal,
Glances turn to gleaming. 3.75/5.0
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