A band geared towards thrash connoisseurs with active-minds and mean-spirits, Aura Noir stand at the fore of metal’s definitive genre in an age where the underground is utterly besodden with bands. These Norwegian thrash stalwarts don’t so much tread the line between savagery and sophistication as stomp upon it, showering dirt in the faces of lesser acts with each smoldering crater of an album.
The first Aura Noir recording occurred in the winter of 1994, at first an auxiliary outlet for a creatively inexhaustible Aggressor. Perhaps unsurprising from a man whose credentials included such left-field legends as Ulver and Ved Buens Ende, this untitled demo is unsettling and manic in tone, stylistically restless and eclectic but with a strong and distinctive musical presence. While the disparate ideas present here would be further explored and perfected by Aggressor later with Ved Buens Ende and Virus, it seems Aura Noir’s true purpose would be to address a more distinct deficit.
Excluding a subsequent Aura Noir demo entitled Two Voices, One King (for all intents and purposes lost), it was the 1995 mini-album Dreams Like Deserts that heralded the entrance of the band’s other driving force, Apollyon. Drummer and guitarist for Norway’s dearly departed doom band Lamented Souls, Apollyon was also a self-taught multi-instrumentalist and his arrival appears to not only have helped cement a stylistic direction for Aura Noir but enabled the duo to alternate duties between the drum throne and microphone, bolstering the band’s dynamic both in studio and in a live setting.
Recorded on ‘borrowed’ studio time with the complicity of Mayhem’s Maniac, Dreams Like Deserts applied Aggressor’s distinguished dissonance to a thrashing template, drawing its ire from inspirational sources such as early Sodom, Kreator, Venom and Celtic Frost. A willful weaponization of imperfection and a repossession of early thrash metal’s feral potency, Dreams Like Deserts was conceived as a corrective measure to the increasingly droll and deluded black metal scene as well as a violent jerk of the arm for thrash that had skanked and streamlined its way to irrelevance. But Aura Noir were only getting started.
What was a gravely persuasive threat on Dreams Like Deserts would escalate into full-scale bombardment with Aura Noir’s 1996 debut full-length, Black Thrash Attack. With the band’s axis of evil completed by the coalition of Mayhem’s Blasphemer on guitar, Black Thrash Attack seemed to burst from the shadows of the most neglected recesses of 80’s thrash. Where recognizable riffs resurface in unabashed homage to old Sodom or Slayer, they are hot on the heels of twisting tremolo anomalies and foul percussive flourishes making Black Thrash Attack more than a mere revival of the early bestial instincts of their influences. With its conscious crudity and the abundance of ability on display, the album remains the primary reference point if not the very embodying emblem upon the banner of black thrash metal.
Though one might think any kind of refinement would be antithetical to Aura Noir’s stated mission, the band managed to pull it off with 1998’s Deep Tracts of Hell, taking impious plunge into the disorienting depths of their craft. Despite being down a man with Blasphemer preoccupied as Mayhem’s mastermind, the remaining duo managed to outdo themselves with this maelstrom of inimitable riffs and unpredictable songwriting twists, the resulting volcanic steam seeming to fuel the oracular hallucinations and esoteric blasphemies of the lyrics. Riffs ripped from Return-era Bathory quickly ignite and warp into the unrecognizable forms baring a black mark of the band’s very own, its oppressive atmospheres only heightened by the raw, ‘in the red’ production. 1998 was a pitiful year for metal by and large but for Aura Noir, 1998 cemented their growing reputation and reconfirmed the respect of fans and peers alike.
After the deluge of Deep Tracts, both Apollyon and Aggressor were active in a reanimated Cadaver and Dødheimsgard as was Blasphemer with Mayhem. It would be six years before Aura Noir would reemerge as the first release on Darkthrone’s Tyrant Syndicate Peaceville imprint with 2004’s The Merciless – as it turns out, a release boasting no less apt a title as their debut. Blasphemer’s fleet fingered leads, Apollyon’s inflamed, vengeful vocals and ripping rhythm guitar and Aggressor’s raving dictatorial decrees and controlled detonative drumming all collude to deliver some of Aura Noir’s most anthemic songs to date. With its compact and concise songwriting and a production as clean and dry as bleached bone, this enduring fan-favorite does not suffer its lack of murky atmospheres so much as thrive on the wholly riff reliant, firmament rending performances of all three members. Little did anyone know that the band’s future following this landmark release was uncertain.
By the mid 00’s, there was some speculation among fans that Aura Noir might be finished. While they could still function between Apollyon’s recruitment into Immortal’s ranks and Blasphemer’s defection to Portugal, a crippling brush with death for Aggressor in 2005 forced the heavily headhunted drummer to drop the sticks for good.
Fears were assuaged with the announcement of 2008’s Hades Rise. It turns out the disruption to the established band dynamic following Aggressor’s accident would not impede the dynamic of the album itself, quite the contrary – despite once again being temporarily reduced to a duo, Hades Rise is a dirty and diverse album perfectly complimented by a raw and organic production, some of the strongest hooks in Aura Noir’s catalogue from both Apollyon and Aggressor and performances that radiate urgency. Although not without the punctuated bursts of hair-raising frenzy at which the band always excelled, Hades Rise also proved Aura Noir was every bit as imposing at Venomous mid-tempos.
Following multiple tours and festival appearances throughout Europe and the Americas, Aura Noir let loose their far-from-forgettable-fifth album Out To Die in 2012. The band’s introductory release for Indie Recordings, Out To Die was the first album since Black Thrash Attack to be written as a trio – the lion’s share of the output stemming from Apollyon and Blasphemer. Despite some lingering reservations from the band regarding the final master, Out To Die’s sheer darkness and intensity is incontestable, managing to surpass ‘defcon Darkness Descends’ at its most exhilarating peaks while also arguably their most balanced offering.
In 2018 the Ugliest Band in the World unleashed their sixth full length on Indie Recordings, the semi-self-titled AURA NOIRE. With no overdubs or embellishments, the album underscores the band’s potency as a power-trio and reinforces their primacy among thrash’s primal pantheon. Aura Noire conjures the might of Venom, the versatility of Voivod and the majesty of Aura Noir.
Whilst having had a break from both recording and live activities for nearly 5 years, the Black Thrash metal stalwarts are finally returning to the live stage again. A dozen highly exclusive shows are planned for 2023 and will include the classic trio of Aggressor, Apollyon and Blasphemer performing selected cuts from their back catalogue. Drum duties will be handled by Tank (Kristian Valbo) courtesy of Norway’s Obliteration, a long time friend and stand-in drummer for the band.
Expect a career spanning set of blistering and relentless anthems from the masters of Black Thrash Metal.
We are the merciless Aura Noir!