You may, or may not, recall a review of a band called Auternus who released a largely excellent EP entitled ‘Changing seasons’ some while back. In that review we found only one point to criticise in any way – the production which lacked the polish we felt the band deserved. Well, Auternus are back with a full length outing and this time any concerns over the production matching the band’s prodigious talent are allayed within two minutes of hitting the play button. Where guitars chimed before, they now shimmer with a vibrant energy and a hint of pent-up menace while the percussion is rendered with a clarity that, at high volumes, rather disconcertingly places the cymbals in the centre of your living room.
Opening with a dark, ambient track in the form of “Dissonant sea”, the band set the scene perfectly with a dark, heavy, oppressive track that builds literally from nothing into a massive hulking monster complete with huge churning riffs and layer-upon-layer of guitar and distortion. Drawing upon the experiences of the first impressive EP, the band are now truly flexing their metallic muscle and the extra oomph the production job offers matches the dark majesty of the track all the way. At just shy of nine minutes, it is an ambitious opening, but then ambition is something that Auternus always had a surfeit of and anyway their ambition was always matched by their talent, making for impressive listening. The second track, ‘bipolar’ is hardly shorter than the first although the sound is more relaxed than on the intense, brooding opener, with rays of light shooting through the remaining vestiges of bleakness and the guitars ringing out a more optimistic melody recalling the grizzled talents of art-rock darlings Sonic Youth around the time of ‘Dirty’ rather than the more Tool-esque soundscapes of the title track while ‘bipolar’ proves to be an entirely apt name as chords and notes bend out of shape further and further, skewing the melody and introducing an uncomfortable undertone as the track becomes ever more menacing. It’s a brilliant track that sparkles with ideas and invention and you can imagine this one going down a storm in the live environment, backed up by a wall of over-driven marshall stacks and enough amplification to level a city; let’s hope they bring themselves over to the UK so we can witness exactly that.
Third track ‘empty heavens’ is a shorter effort (clocking in at just under six minutes) and it is quite beautiful with all sorts of unexpected elements lurking within the mix, most of which require several listens to truly appreciate, and the first appearance on the album of vocals which nicely add a new dynamic to the band’s sound. With a melody that is subtle but insistent the band recall a hybrid between Mogwai and Jesu and both music and vocals are crafted sparingly yet with real thought and talent. Indeed, this is true of the whole album in which absolutely nothing is wasted. While there may well be a surfeit of ideas, restraint has been exercised to stop the whole thing becoming weighed down by its own excesses – rather every idea is utilised to the point that the listener wants to hear more rather than turn the track off and the band adhere to the old adage “always leave the audience wanting more”. Another short track, ‘Until the light is gone’ appears out of the static that its predecessor dissolved into and turns out to be a pastoral, sun-flecked piece that is as beautiful as it is inspirational and it’s clear that Auternus have sequenced the album to perfection with each track conveying a mood or feeling as effectively as any Haiku. ‘Hold me’ starts from a simple introspective guitar part that then builds over it’s almost-seven-minutes vi a beautiful (and quite unexpected) female vocal part that sits somewhere between Tool and Anethema’s female-fronted excursions and which brings out yet another, hitherto unexplored area of the band’s music. It is a highlight of the record and the vocals of the (sadly unnamed on my promo copy) singer are truly excellent and shot through with emotion. As always, when faced with a track that is simply overwhelming, I fear that words alone cannot convey the astonishing nature of this track and the beauty of the melody, the intensity of the latter stages and the purity of the stunning female vocals all combine here to create one of those moments when you find yourself sitting bolt upright on the sofa, goose-bumps pricking the skin and a mild euphoria at what is unfolding on the stereo in front of you. It is, quite simply, one of those perfect tracks where all the elements align and one can only imagine the joy the band felt in the studio when hearing this back.
Final track ‘non-linear’ arrives straight out of its monumental predecessor and it serves as a coda to its forbear with vocals which are no less impressive and a melody that is a thing of multi-faceted wonder recalling a mixture of the Deftones and Tool at their peak coupled with the emotional resonance of Anathema. It serves as a fitting ending to an album that is short but utterly unmissable with each track providing a wealth of ideas and images.
If last time I felt that the band were reaching for the stars and missing by a millimetre, this time Auternus have shot well beyond their intended mark delivering up an album that is near perfect. The riffs are tighter, the drumming better and the vocals entirely peerless. There is so much happening in every track that it requires several listens before it is possible to truly absorb the full weight of what is going on and ‘hold me’ is a perfect six minutes that will haunt your memory. It is always a pleasure to see a great band develop, but here Auternus have broken, even smashed, every expectation I had for this record with a casual disregard that is quite astounding. Ranging across genres, moods and styles this is a record that I would (and will) wholeheartedly recommend, not to metal fans or post-rock fans or alternative fans, but to anyone who admires intelligent and interesting music; long may Auternus continue for on the strength of this release they deserve every success. A groundbreaking, beautiful, unnerving, claustrophobic, stunning work of art – ‘the dissonant sea’ is an amazing release.