When blackened thrash gets it wrong, you get an uninspired mishmash of its two root genres that exists solely to remind you of how much better it could be. But when it gets it right… muah! The ominousness of your early Darkthrone albums gets a testosterone boost from your Exodus LPs. But while some bands tend to focus on the highly-refined threads of technicality between the two genres (see: Absu), some of my favorites from the last few years have played on the influence of punk and hardcore in the roots of both black and thrash metal. And the latter is on excellent display on Aura Noir’s latest, Out to Die. There’s not a whole lot of atmosphere or contemplation in the album’s 32 minutes and 37 seconds, just a shit-ton of top shelf riffs and attitude. Considering the pedigree involved, that’s not necessarily a surprise. But what is sort of out-of-the-ordinary is that there are moments that, when not delivering blows to your solar plexus, actually approach something resembling fun.

That fun doesn’t make light of either black metal or thrash, though. And the aforementioned pedigree sheds light on why: the band consists of former Mayhem guitarist Blasphemer (superior to Euronymous, if you ask me… then no one else, apparently) and the nucleus of Aggressor and Apollyon (a prolific black metal hired gun currently playing bass in Immortal), who’ve been churning out evil blackthrash since the mid-90s. Their adoration of their influences is wholly present on Out to Die, a cavalcade of d-beats, militaristic guitar work, and flourishes of frostbitten demonry. The Kill ‘Em All stuttering riffs on “Priest’s Hellish Fiend” will warm the cockles of even the stoniest faced black metal cynics, while “Abbadon” applies noodly-fingered thrash bravado to some grim chord progressions. While much of Out to Die falls on the thrash side of the spectrum, the band can still go toe-to-toe with many of their long-in-the-tooth peers as well as corpsepainted upstarts. It’s dark, but not muddled. They don’t let pretentious Nietzschean philosophizing get in the way of kicking the shit out of whatever is in front of them.

A good point of reference for the record would be latter-day Darkthrone, another Norwegian band whose second act included falling in love with denim and cool uncle metal. Both seem content to sound equally relevant in the present and past, from heavy nods to the classics to defiantly old-school production (Out to Die has a robust analog warmth to it, a welcome change from their rawer-sounding early material). But while Darkthrone are comfortable writing some great blackened crust punk songs, Aura Noir seek to bowl you over. Not that this is a bad thing; they’re two different bands. But Aura Noir have a timeless ferocity to them that’s more tangible than black metal’s jagged, fuzzy arpeggios but more esoteric than the beer-swilling riffs of NWOBHM. They growl about “a spectre of primal rage” on “The Grin from the Gallows”; whether intentional or not, it could double as their motto.

(4 out of 5 horns)


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