December 7, 2014

Aureole - Alunar

Written by Justin C.

Art by Ariella Vaystukh

I've been wanting to write about one of Fallen Empire's releases for a while, but I had trouble deciding on which one. I've been gobbling up nearly all of them as soon as I can get my grubby, digital mitts on them. A lot of them, like the Skáphe and Eos releases previously featured here have had immediate appeal, but I ultimately decided to talk about one that took a while to sink in, Aureole's spaced-out epic Alunar.

This is doomy, ambient black metal. I hesitate to label it "ambient" because that's not a flavor of music that I'm typically very interested in--it suggests a certain formlessness that doesn't hold my attention. But in spite of being slow-moving and, at times, barely-there music, I eventually succumbed completely to the charms of this album. Fallen Empire's Bandcamp describe Alunar like this: "The debut album from AUREOLE takes us to the helm of Citadel Alunar, exposing the unforgiving reality of our universe." The world "helm" certainly suggests a spaceship of some sort, even if it's only metaphorical, and listening to this often feels like a very isolated journey through the depths of space, not unlike perhaps Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, but even lonelier and more desolate. And if you want to hear what desolation-made-into-music sounds like, let yourself be hypnotized by the sparse, echoing percussion sound in the album closer, "V: Alunar, Decrepit..."

I initially found it difficult to write about this release because the music is so impressionistic.** Imagine Monet painting a nebula and then that somehow being translated directly into music. The melodies are strong but melancholy. The tremolos wash through, almost like cosmic background radiation. There are lots of different sounds, familiar but yet somehow strange and new, like otherworldly chimes, bells, and stringed instruments that may not actually exist in reality. The vocals are pure black metal, but they don't appear often, and when they do, they're buried in the mix, sounding like a weak transmission coming from some far off place.

As you might guess, this is an album that's meant to be taken as a whole, but if there's a centerpiece, I'd say it's "IV: Crusade of NGC 5128." The slow, tribal drums and the ebbs and flows in the melody are probably some of the most evocative on the album. "Crusade" initially made me think of a fleet of starships slowly closing in, but when I read that "NGC 5128" is actually the designation of a galaxy that is in the process of devouring a nearby, smaller galaxy, the song took on a whole new meaning in my mind. Granted, that process doesn't sound like anything because there is no atmosphere in space for sound waves to travel in, but in a more figurative sense, the song could easily be the soundtrack for the slow collision of two massive systems.

This is one of those albums I really want you to give a chance to, even if, like me, the "ambient" label isn't a big draw. Like any genre of music, there are true gems that transcend what our perceptions of that genre are, and I think Alunar is solidly in that category.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

**I'm not really talking about the hallmarks of what's been called Impressionism in classical music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, although there may be some similarities. I'm not enough of a music historian to say one way or the other, but I kept coming back to that term nonetheless.

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