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Wizards and waterfalls - 75%

autothrall, June 10th, 2018
Written based on this version: 1998, CD, Black Mark Production

The idea of a fantastical melodic death metal band promoted a form of promising escapism that was uncommon within its niche in the 90s, although a number of bands in the ensuing two decades have merged that Swedish influence with folk metal, video gaming and other mythological and fairytale concepts. Bands like At the Gates, In Flames and Dark Tranquillity tackled more personal, social or political topics. But Auberon's debut had that look about it, with a wizard standing against some wondrous, alien landscape, which was an immediate draw for me, because I was heavily enamored of their label mates Lake of Tears, who used a similar but more psychedelic imagery for their brand of trudging Gothic doom. So I was pretty surprised, upon first hearing the music itself, that these Swedes had put together a competent melodic death act balancing the gnarled aggression of their countrymen with some solid songwriting that explored harsher and calmer passages, progressive (or at least mildly progressive) song structures, and consistent, non-flashy musical instrumentation.

Dark Tranquillity's first three albums would be the natural comparison, with The Tale of Black... coming off darker, possessing more intense bursts of riffing. The melodies are usually ingrained more into or alongside the chord structures themselves here, whereas on The Gallery they were a more overt, standout feature drawing more directly upon the lineage of groups like Iron Maiden. The leads on this record are pretty good, always moody and adventurous, without ever knowing quite where their bridge is about to come to an end; and the rhythm guitars are riffing off everywhere. Like a lot of similar bands at the time, it was like a mix of thrash and 80s power metal transported into the 'death' metal end of the spectrum through the density, guitar tone and vocals. These had a raucous rasp about them, far more carnal and Lindberg (or Laiho) than hoarse and Stanne. Occasionally, they seem to layer up and bounce off one another to the point that they're a little too raspy and hideous, which can be an amusing contrast once they surge into some part of the record where it feels more like a progressive rock guitar instrumental. Interestingly enough, these are balanced off against sections of cleaner, accented vocals that actually imbue the album with some of its more fantastic narrative feel...

In fact, these vocals are much better than the harsh style, as you can hear in a song like "The Dance" where they are more prominently on display and really bind it all together. Had The Tale of Black... actually used this style exclusively, it might even be a superior effort overall. That's not to say that the rasping sucks, far from it, but they do feel a little too 'Beauty & the Beast' contrasted with the more studied, serious and memorable cleans. The drumming is also pretty good here, double bass rolls and fills everywhere that ramp up the aggression level at least a few degrees, and helping give the tunes that air of power and desperation which made records like Slaughter of the Soul legendary. I won't say the production here is absolutely top shelf, since it seems somewhat washed out in spots, but it was a damn sight better than a lot of other bands choking along on the exhaust of this style, and all in all I was pretty happy with the debut. Not as memorable or exciting as a number of their peers, but a firm recommendation for those seeking out more in the vein of The Fifth Season, Terminal Spirit Disease, Thunderbeast, The Mind's I or The Gallery.

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com