Enslaved and Borknagar are two of my favorite all-time bands. There’s just very little sweeter to my ears than black metal aesthetics combined with progressive theatrics, slick guitar work and the occasional cleanly sung chorus. So I was beyond upset with myself for not having heard Code before the announcement of Augur Nox, their first album in four years. I have since binged on their back catalog and fell in love with their brand of mind-bending extreme metal that forgoes darkness and evil for something less tangible but equally disturbing. In the years since sophomore album Resplendent Grotesque the band has changed drastically and now boasts only a sole original member. But on their third full-length the English/Norwegian quintet have been able to keep the fire burning hot and stay true to their unique sound all the same.
Original singer Kvohst’s mind-bending and varied vocal performance was a defining piece of the Code identity, so even the most seasoned throat-burner would have trouble living up to his mystical aura. Switching between fire-breathing proclamation and preacher-esque clean passages, newcomer Wacian follows almost the exact form as his predecessor while even wrestling with similar deeply poetic and thought-provoking lyrics. Few people in this world could pull off such a niche approach, and the Englishman nails it. Vocal similarities aside, there are notable differences in approach taken by the band on Augur Nox. For one, the tracks are far less direct. While the band’s earlier work was firmly rooted in progressive tendencies, the songs had easier to decipher hooks that boasted a slightly firmer structure. But it’s rare that experimental-leaning bands ever ever pull back the reins with age so the new approach isn’t exactly shocking. Twenty minutes longer than their previous effort, it’s a massive, complex work nigh impossible to fully grasp as there’s no limit to the ever-flowing textures. When all seems relatively quiet, there always seems to be something hiding just beyond the veil; quiet, undecipherable whispers, ethereal echoes dancing across the soundscape, a bass fill humbly working its magic almost unnoticed. This leads far past their previously traveled realms and treads into the lands of experimentalism where the likes of Arcturus and Solefald reside.
Code play right into my tastes, so it’s no surprise I can’t speak highly enough of their work on Augur Nox. It’s an album that’s going to demand half a dozen spins just to scratch the surface, even when the melody and energy hit you immediately. But all this espousing can only go so far, as this is a work to be appreciated with an open mind free of expectations. Fans of metal extreme and calm will find much to appreciate in Code’s approach to the dark arts, though those seeking something that adheres solely to one or the other may be disappointed. A balancing act to be sure, but the multinational collective pull it off once again, this time on an even tighter rope.
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