Above Aurora’s roots trace back to Poland but according to the press release accompanying their latest full length The Shrine of Deterioration, these days they reside in Iceland. This make the variant of black metal they’ve channeled throughout their career even more intriguing, as their slower and more deliberate pacing with only occasional bursts of intense blasting give off hints of well-known bands from both countries. For this latest release the group hasn’t deviated significantly from the gloomy, nihilistic atmosphere and harshness they’ve offered all along but somehow the overall sound has gotten even bleaker. It’s a concise listen where individual moments tend to blur together, but the darker melodies get under your skin and encourage repeat spins as a complete body of work.
“Blurred Luminosity” proves to be an appropriate opening for The Shrine of Deterioration, as the instrumental piece focuses on a slower build-up that lets haunting melodies and darkness dominate the landscape as the overall tone feels so thick that it could swallow you up. Rather than the usual blasting or jagged edges of black metal, this intro gives off a vibe that is almost closer to doom and post rock, though once the second song “Virus” kicks in the guitars add in some noticeable bite. Tempo wise Above Aurora tends to stick towards the slower or mid-tempo side, only whipping things up into faster blasting a handful of times throughout the album and instead maintaining a steady, focused path towards destruction. The way the atmosphere swirls around you and creates a feeling of melancholy and nothingness is reminiscent of both Polish mainstays Mgła and Icelandic bands like Sinmara at their slowest and least chaotic moments, yet these guys twist the formula in a way that keeps them from coming through as mere clones. At thirty-six minutes it’s a listen that flies by quickly and even with some individual songs reaching the seven to eight-minute mark it doesn’t feel like anything is stretched out further than it needs to. However, I did find there to be a similarity between how many of these ideas are constructed and as a result individual tracks tended to blur together making this an album that was better experienced as a whole entity rather than in bits and pieces.
With the focus on slower build-ups and atmosphere that’s as bleak as it gets, the band tends to space out their vocals rather than making them a constant element that bludgeons you into bits. In this regard, V.’s raspier screams often feel like an extension of the instrumentation and weave in and out of the dense bass lines and harsher guitar riffs to add jagged edges to the material. Each verse comes across as focused, and with the pauses between each one it keeps the intensity at a high level with every appearance. Where sometimes vocals in black metal feel at odds with the instrumentals as they try to be as extreme and violent as possible, Above Aurora incorporates them in a way that flows seamlessly alongside the rest of the band. It’s a small nuance, but it works to the group’s advantage and helps to differentiate them from some of the others in the genre.
With each release Above Aurora has changed incrementally rather than truly evolving, but their slower approach to black metal often feels just as bleak and razor sharp as their peers that go at double the speed. Some of the songs may blend together due to how the band tends to approach their songwriting, but the album as a whole has such a sense of desolation and decay that fans of the genre are likely to find themselves sucked in nevertheless. The Shrine of Deterioration is available from Pagan Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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