As those who witnessed the band at this year’s Damnation festival will testify, Aura Noir are a force to be reckoned with. However, in 1995 they were on the eve of releasing their debut effort, the short, sharp catalogue of horrors that is the ‘Dreams like deserts’ EP. Gathering together a mere six tracks and clocking in at a mere twenty minutes, with songs like opening track ‘the rape’ and EP highlight ‘Angel Ripper’, Aura Noir were a band feeling their way into an identity that was, at that time, still heavily influenced by Venom, Slayer and Kreator. Nonetheless, for all that ‘Dreams like deserts’ sounds like a frantic and youthful distillation of Aura Noir’s favourite albums, there is a dangerous edge to proceedings that makes it possible to see the brutal path Aura Noir would carve for themselves over the years.
With this reissue Peaceville have once again excelled themselves. Aside from the long out of print EP tracks, this version also adds four ultra-rare session out-takes and, the jewel in the crown, a track featuring a guest appearance from black metal’s dark lord Fenriz. The packaging, too, is eye-catching, with the striking black and white cover art beautifully reproduced and the booklet containing full lyrics although, sadly, we are left without liner-notes, the addition of which would have made this package truly definitive. Nonetheless, with a pristine re-mastering of the original audio and a wealth of bonus tracks, this is an EP that fans would be well-advised to consider purchasing even if they own the original, whilst newcomers to Aura Noir’s truly noxious blackened thrash sound will find much to admire in these early recordings.
The original EP tracks do much to point towards Aura Noir’s infamous future. Opening track ‘the rape’ is a toxic holocaust of fizzing guitars, pile-driver percussion and lyrical misanthropy delivered in a rasp that sounds brings to mind the serrated croak of a ravaged tongue being run over forked teeth. ‘Forlorn blessings to the dreamking’ showcases Aura Noir’s thrash roots with a classic guitar riff that, blackened vocals notwithstanding, is far more closely linked to classic heavy metal acts such as Venom than it is to the wind-swept fury of Emperor or Darkthrone. The title track is a darker offering and, with its atonal guitars and minor-key riffs, it sounds more traditionally black than its predecessor. Brutal and uncompromising, you can see why the band used its emotive title as the title for the EP. ‘Angel Ripper’, with its undercurrent of savage violence, is a blackened outpouring of indiscriminate hatred over a cyclical riff that blurs against the remorseless battering of the percussive assault. ‘Snake’ flies through the listeners consciousness, a brief, venomous assault and then the final track of the EP slithers into the view in the form of the brutal, unutterably fast ‘mirage’, which, despite its age and the recording deficiencies of the period, still manages to sound as brutal as it did the day it was released.
What is perhaps shocking about this reissue is not that it includes long-lost artefacts in the form of four outtakes, but that the band actually discarded this material. Of the gems unearthed here, the first track, ‘deep tracts of hell’, is classic Aura Noir – blistering guitars, full-on percussion and vocals that are torn from somewhere near the centre of the earth. With a brutal production, most bands would have released this years ago rather than add it as a bonus track to a re-issue some seventeen years after the fact, but we should consider ourselves lucky these tracks have appeared at all and Peacville have done a grand job unearthing them. ‘Purifaction of hell’ is more groove-laden, recalling the stripped-down approach that Satyricon would later take, and the mid-tempo grind adds a nice contrast to the otherwise dizzying speed of the music on offer. ‘Released damnation’ is a furiously icy offering that smears razor sharp guitar across ice-rimmed cymbals and then tears blackened holes through the fabric of both with a furious assault on the senses which is easily up there with the best of Aura Noir’s efforts. The final outtake, the rather worrying dietary assault that is ‘Broth of oblivion’, features some stunning guitar riffs that demonstrate the band’s technical ability even when layered under punishing levels of distortion and a percussive assault that rumbles like thunder through the speakers. With its shifting time signatures and unhinged vocal it is a powerful blast that has you questioning once again just how it became a long lost outtake. The grand finale, however, is ‘the tower of limbs and fevers’ with its vaunted guest appearance form Fenriz, which is worth purchasing this compilation for alone. As dark and brutally unhinged as you could want, it proves to be a blackened-thrash assault that neatly summarises all of the best aspects of that genre collision into one astonishingly horrible track.
Aura Noir are legendary for a reason. This primal, primitive assault is far from perfect, but it explores the dark roots of the band and demonstrate, if not the heights that the band would later reach, the potential that was there right from the very start. To see the release restored and released is, in itself, a treat for extreme metal fans, whilst the addition of the brilliantly brutal bonus tracks (anyone would think I got extra credit for neat alliteration) makes this re-release nothing short of essential for Aura Noir fans. I can think of no better introduction to this dark, masterful act, and if you have yet to experience Aura Noir’s blackened pleasures then this should be high on your list of purchases; in contrast, if you already have the original tracks you should still consider reinvesting because the bonus tracks flesh out the early days of aura noir, whilst the Fenriz-boasting ‘the tower of limbs and fevers’ is almost worthy of the price alone. All hail Aura Noir – this collection demonstrates their admirable commitment and skill even at the outset – a most worthy purchase.