Canadian black metal band Dismal Aura released their debut full-length Praesagia Tristia back in 2021, and immediately established themselves as a band with some distinguishing elements such as their infusion of additional metal genres and socio-political slant. For album number two, Imperium Mortalia, they’ve ramped up the stylistic variation in their songwriting. Though it runs under half an hour, Dismal Aura hops between second wave and atmospheric black metal while also injecting hints of crust punk, grind, and even a little death metal to create a sound that’s equally aggressive and haunting. It does fly by a little too quickly at some points, making it so that not every song really has time to sink in and stick with the listener, but there is still plenty here to make Dismal Aura worth a recommendation.
Opener “Blood Quantum” showcases the band at their most aggressive, as it builds up in with pounding drums and transitions that have a significant amount of crust influence behind them, but with black metal tonality adding that colder, jagged edge to the sound. It’s an intense opener that gives you an idea of how diverse Dismal Aura can be in the course of a single song, and that works well in drawing the listener in. From there the group continues to hop across the stylistic map, sometimes opting for more straightforward blasting second-wave black metal influences, injecting some crust and grind approaches, and even heading into more melancholic and softer territory on songs like “One Path, Many Voices” and “Essence of Petrichor”. These two tracks in particular are some of the strongest Imperium Mortalia has to offer, as the former offers powerful blasting and some twists and turns that remind me of more recent material from Woe, while the latter has some gothic and folk twangs to it that stand out. What’s interesting is that for a band who isn’t afraid to explore some hints of raging grind or even some faster death metal and crust punk, the slower, moodier moments are what stand out the most and the brevity of the album works against some of the more direct attacks. There’s nothing outright bad and the tightness of the performance works to Dismal Aura’s advantage, but it feels like they’re sometimes cutting these riffs off before they fully hit their peak.
Two of the three members contribute vocals throughout Imperium Mortalia, with the primary style coming through as a raspier scream that adds a lot of abrasive edges to the material. On “Blood Quantum” you can also hear some slightly cleaner yells and screams, which are a bit buried in the mix but add some variation to the performance and approach Dismal Aura is going for. At some points the combination of pitches reminds me of fellow Canadian bands like Auroch or Mitochondrion, as there’s a similar mix of high and lows alongside almost chanted sections that keep the intensity at a high. Tying into the themes of the album, you get a few sound clips throughout Imperium Mortalia that inject a bit more of that crust punk or grind feel in how they’re woven into the songwriting, and this is another element that gives the band a bit more of a unique slant within black metal.
Dismal Aura has evolved quickly, as they’ve put even more crust, grind, and everything else extreme metal into their black metal foundation on album two. The resulting sound has a lot of familiar elements but still manages to have a unique feel. With that in mind though, the strongest moments emphasize slower, methodical exploration and unexpected transitions, and some of the straightforward bludgeoning flies by without fully making an impact. I think in this case a slightly longer effort would go even further in fleshing out these ideas, but there’s a strong foundation in place and I can’t wait to hear where Dismal Aura takes it. Imperium Mortalia is available from Avantgarde Music.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg