So, let’s dive into the stuff that’s piled up while this site has slowly been rotting in neglect…
Grey Aura – Waerachtighe beschryvinghe van drie seylagien, ter werelt noyt soo vreemt ghehoort (Blood Music, 2016)
Modern black metal is a beast that is difficult to cage, to put into convenient boxes of labelling or stylistic expression. It’s been a long time since those early days in Norway, the infancy of the famed 2nd wave – and let’s face it, the first wave was hardly a wave as such, more of a badly structured thesis, lots of exciting ideas, but abandoned by its creator halfway to completion. 2nd Wave though – at least as seen in retrospect – created a lasting impact in extreme metal which can be seen and felt to this day. Classics were made, standards created – for good and bad – and in time the rebellious nature of the beast was forgotten behind a fan-driven fundamentalism which is as amusing as it is catastrophic, totally detached both from the complete and utter lack of adherence to musical establishment and standards shown by those early bands, but also from the paths later taken by said bands.
Luckily, since black metal has an inborn tendency to wreak havoc, nowadays new black bands keep pushing the boundaries, lyrically, stylistically as well as conceptually.
One of those bands are Grey Aura from the Netherlands, who have apparantly spent about 2½ years perfecting a musical rendition of the story about a Dutch attempt to find a way north of Norway and Russia towards China. And time well spent, I must say – in a way, you could say, more successfully spent than the time spent by those 16th ceuntury explorers.
It is a huge album, not only in length, clocking in at 1 hour 23 minutes, but also in scope. What they achieve is twofold: they have created a work of both beauty, strength, intense immensity and frail intimacy – and they set new standards for the integration of extreme metal with other artforms, be it other musical styles or simply other ways of expression.
It’s also a hard album to absorb – the way it tends to ever change and wander out mysterious paths, while still keeping tight reigns on the overall voyage through the album. And immersion into this album tend to bleed into the physical dimension, setting its mark on the listener. It’s an album that practically demands a period of reflection once the final notes ring out (as well as, of course, the utmost focus and concentration during listening).
“The main idea behind Grey Aura is to create dark, immersive art. We combine long and layered black metal compositions with audio drama and sound design. Our main goal is to transform black metal into something that is much more than just music: we want the listener to really experience our visions and ideas as intensely as possible. We are open to all art forms and are interested in using both visual and sonic art to reach our goals.
In our opinion, good music has the ability to grow and expand through repetitive listening. Therefore ‘Waerachtighe beschryvinghe…’ contains a lot of layers and will need to be listened to multiple times in order to be fully understood and digested. We carefully constructed our compositions and used many subtle details, so that the listener is invited to dig deeper and find new things with each listening session.” – Taken from an interview by webzine Blight Of Plebians, which is apparantly no longer in existence…
Whether it is the small soothing piano-parts strewn across the 2-album set, the sound-effects, or the searing, chaotic black metal parts, everything just seems to fit together into an epic whole, and language-barrier notwithstanding (and Google translate is really no help when it comes to Dutch :-) ), an alert listener is able to piece together the journey and the extreme challenges that are this album’s subject matter.
Generally there is a somewhat neoclassical approach to the songwriting, with themes, fragments of themes, or simply melody-parts reminiscent of each other, which both helps keep the continuity and the coherence of the album – and places it more firmly in the period described by the story.
Musically (as well as conceptually, as far as I can understand) it’s a story about courage, about the forces of nature, about how men come together to survive those forces, but also about how the strain causes cracks between people; strife and negativity. It’s a very expressive album. An album that wears its emotions on the sleeve in glorious 3D. But also an album that is not afraid to reference those who went before (like that enticing proggy intro-part of De Wind Blies, that somehow reminds me of that delightful bass-part in Metallica‘s Orion, whether that’s intentional or not) as well as integrating the hallmarks of a diversity of other genres into their music, in a true, rebellious yawp of defiance towards genre-purists. And with a cool, crisp production that lets details stand out as needed.
All pieced together with the utmost of attention to detail, interspersed with small sound-bites of dialogue and/or sound-effects, something seldom seen used to this extent even on a concept album. And if there’s one finger to place on the album, it’s right here – because these extra, theme-setting bits of aural staffage do from time to time get a bit disconnected, as if they are additions, something pinned to the musical story, instead of being an integral part of the whole.
But that, after all, is a minor quip that does not detract from the immenseness and the pure quality of the album as a whole. And, it is omething I’m quite certain Grey Aura will perfect in due course with the same attention to detail they seemingly pour into everything they do. I will not be the slightest surprised if they end up making an album that will be as iconic for black metal as The Wall has been for modern rock.
For now, what we have is a monumental work, showcasing just how adventurous and overwhelming black metal can be when taken towards the logical conclusions of what its adventurious creators of old used as fuel for their creations. A short(ish) journey into an unknown, a glimpse of what life could be when taken down other paths more integral to human existence.
And when that journey is over, what is left is the almost force-of-nature-like feeling of having grasped and eventually experienced true greatness. As it must have been for the survivors of the expedition described. And true explorers set out for another go.