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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 heads... it 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.
Having released two self-financed CDs plus a mini CD previously and although Aurora Borealis is not a total stranger in the underground scene, the band was unsuccessful in finding an European distributor until after the release of this silver disc in the States. Things changed when the band signed a deal with the Danish Die Hard Records for the release of two CD's.
The first one lies before me, an European release of their self-financed "Northern Lights" CD, which came out in the States in 2000.
The band consists of only two members on this release, namely Ron Vento (vocals, bass, guitar) and Derek Roddy (drums), the last one will definitely ring a bell as the drummer-for-hire in numerous more well-known acts such as Malevolent Creation and Hate Eternal. Roddy plays an active part in Aurora Borealis for years now.
Musically speaking, "Northern Lights" is a hyper-fast Death/Black album. Sharp riffs and constantly raging drumbeats make together a very aggressive wall of sound which will make the die-hard blastbeat-fans crave for more, I'm certain. Above that, the CD will come with 5 bonus tracks!
Unfortunately, after a few tracks the screams of Vento start to get on my nerves and I can't resist the feeling that I'm listening to an extremely fast Death/Thrash-oriented band in which only the vocals seem to add to the Black Metal description which Aurora Borealis claims. On top of that, some tracks sound unfinished, as if there was too little time to expand upon the ideas present.
In short: a very powerful CD with a reasonable production which will be well-received in the underground scene. The replay value is somewhat lessened by the forgettable vocals though, and I dare say the music has not yet fully matured. I'm convinced that we'll hear more from them though, hopefully AB continues to grow.
For the uninitiated, Aurora Borealis is Ron Vento’s lone project that combines the best parts of black, death and thrash metal to create a fairly distinctive sound. Although, if Kreator had retained their style from “Pleasure to Kill,” gained a fascination with ancient mythology, and released an album using techniques (blastbeats) and technology from the year 2000, I suppose it might sound slightly similar to “Northern Lights.” Vento’s raspy black metal vocals are well done, and are a prefect compliment to the frenzied nature of the music. Lyrically this record manages to intelligently avoid genre clichés, and provides an interesting read for those who are a fan of archaic folklore.
As it has become the norm for almost all of his projects, Derik Roddy absolutely slays on “Northern Lights.” Additionally, Roddy’s drum sound has far more energy than his work in other acts like Hate Eternal thanks to a lack of blatant triggering, and a rather modest ratio of blastbeats. Not to undermine Roddy’s performance in any way, but the real star of “Northern Lights” is Rob Vento’s exceptional guitar work. Vento exclusively performed all the guitars on this CD, and clearly the man knows how to construct catchy riffs. Highlights like “Dream God,” “Sky Dweller,” and “Images and the Nightsky” are all a testament to Vento’s strong sense of structure. The riffs flow smoothly and impeccably, frequently switching tempos and running the full gamut from frantic, single note tremolo picking to monstrous, headbanging thrash riffs. Vento is also no slouch when it comes to scripting solos, as proved in the aforementioned riffing giant known as “Dream God.”
Putting all praise aside, this album does have one fatal flaw: a nagging bout of brevity. Subtracting the closing track that is actually only a couple minutes of the same drum pattern repetitively played over syths, the album clocks in at a paltry 29:55. However, there is a re-released version of “Northern Lights” that contains five bonus tracks from their debut full length, “Praise The Archaic Lights Embrace,” so anyone who is interested in purchasing this CD should try to find the 2002 re-release. While not terribly inventive, Aurora Borealis’ second full length is still a solid slab of metal supremacy that will appeal to an expansive scale of metalheads, and is assuredly worthy of a purchase.