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The spirit of nature, manifested as art. - 88%

ConorFynes, September 14th, 2015

While Blood in Our Wells may be Drudkh's better album musically, I cannot think of another album that captures natural atmosphere as profoundly as Autumn Aurora. When September or October roll around, this album always comes into mind. Drudkh may have not had the most consistent career around, this album alone could have ensured their place among the greatest their genre has ever laid host to. They're rarely the sort of band that would sound interesting without the atmosphere, but it's hard to hold that against them when they conjure a mood so well. There is a magic to behold in the sense that a collage of raw guitars, tumbling drumwork, screams and the occasional nature sample can evoke such a strong picture in the mind's eye. For me, listening to Autumn Aurora is like taking a brief retreat from society, becoming alone and one with nature; ancient, vast, and glorious.

The fact that Drudkh nail that atmosphere so well is made more impressive by the fact that every second or third black metal band has meant to do the same. Most grasp at echoes of the magic, but ultimately sound grounded, and not in the earthly way they're intending. Drudkh made great lengths towards achieving this on their debut Forgotten Legends, but that album was otherwise held back by its trying repetition and monotony. While I'm convinced a grasp of atmosphere is something you either 'have' or don't have from the start, Drudkh became far more adept at bringing their atmosphere to light via more dynamic means. Their composition is still pretty minimalist by most band's standards, but Autumn Aurora finally employed the band's inherently strong riffs in such a way that they never get boring to listen to.

Drudkh's ideas tend to be solid by and large, but Autumn Aurora carries a mystical undercurrent that sets it apart from their other albums. There's a really organic feel, for example, to the way the lead guitar in "Summoning the Rain" is handled. The rough-yet-controlled feel to the guitars sounds like it was concocted simultaneously, or drawn out from the floor of a lake. The expected folkish undercurrent remains strong throughout the album; acoustic guitars are rarely given a spotlight outside of brooding intros, but you can almost always hear them strumming away behind the wall of distortion. Such a simple addition to Drudkh's sound makes Autumn Aurora much prettier-sounding than its barebones predecessor.

There's an emotional aloofness throughout Autumn Aurora; it is vast and plenty reverent to nature, but it lacks an intimate touch. This would make most other albums sound relatively cold, but I think it works for what Drudkh were trying to accomplish here. The gritty, repeating riffs, the sparse growls, everything sounds warm without giving the impression you're in the company of others. It is purely solitary art, and that's a good part of the reason why the atmosphere works so well. With regards to atmosphere, the are only a handful of albums that see fit to create a 'mental cinema' in my mind while I'm listening to them. In Autumn Aurora's case, I'm regaled with images of wind rustling through trees, of twilight sweeping across a forest. Those images are par for the course for most any nature-themed black metal, but it's very seldom that music ever evokes it as well as here.

Drudkh's masterpiece culminates with "The First Snow", a song that truly sounds like it was forged in the liminal region between autumn and winter. The black metal is distilled to none but its most beautiful, harmonious elements, the tempo slows down to a melancholic plod, and the acoustics take a higher priority in the mix. For a relatively long piece that doesn't use more than two ideas throughout, "The Final Snow" never wears thin. It could probably go on for half an hour and I wouldn't mind. That's the sort of atmosphere that Drudkh bring to the table; timeless, masterful and surprisingly authentic. There are plenty of times I think one of their later albums is my favourite, but I keep coming back to Autumn Aurora. For their part in it, Drudkh have created a work of art that would sound just as evocative if it were released twenty years from now, as opposed to over a decade ago. Don't try to figure this album out; there's nothing to unlock. Sit back, and let it pass over you. Real atmosphere is surprisingly hard to come by, and this album has it in droves.