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Aoria - "The Constant" (CD)

Aoria - "The Constant" CD cover image

"The Constant" track listing:

1. A Slow Moving Storm
2. The Black Heart
3. Assassination
4. The Bleeder
5. You Really Gave It All, Didn't You?
6. An Overwhelming Calm

Reviewed by on December 20, 2012

"This is melancholy music that neither brings down nor lifts up a mood - an affirmation of the beauty of the middle-ground by way of high-level songwriters."

It's a look through an autumnal treescape, with its jagged leafless branches like dry bones swaying in a breeze. It's the time of silent reflection just before sleep overtakes you. It's the gentle roll of the sea. It's a personification of the title of the first track, "A Slow Moving Storm." It's beautifully bleak, like a black-and-white portrait of an abandoned old farm house. Hailing from Sweden, the trio known as Aoria's debut album is as evocative as it is understated.

Not nearly as doomy as Katatonia or as biting and drifting as Agalloch, Aoria leans more toward the middle-ground of a less-oppressive, but certainly dark and minimalist, melodic doom sound. This encompasses both the instruments and the lyrical direction, which is often introspective. A focus is given to breathing room, with the trio of Robin Bergh (of October Tide) on drums, Erik Nilsson (of A Swarm of The Sun and Kausal) on guitars and vocals, and Niklas Sandin (of Katatonia) on bass laying back and letting the songs develop with minimal overt changes.

Like their contemporaries in the melodic metal scene in Sweden, fairly obvious comparisons can be made to the softer side of Dark Tranquillity, the dramatic distorted melody lines of The Provenance, and Katatonia, with even some notes of Pelican and Saturnus in there. The tempo is fairly slow for most of the songs, although it never feels like it should be quicker. "The Black Heart," in particular, could easily be a darker Ryan Adams song in a parallel universe.

Attention is paid to how long to linger on a particular melody, with Bergh's bright tenor vocals breaking up any longer instrumental bits. "Assassination," the longest track, shows the band's ability to develop a song through very few chord changes, with the bulk of the development coming from backing guitars with the drums at the lead. Bergh's vocals avoid skewing the doomy side of things into the "oppressive" territory, sticking more toward the purer side of clean singing.

"You Really Gave It All, Didn't You?" poses pointed questions at its subject in the lyrics while the band pounds out what seems like a death march at first, then peaking and falling over and over like waves, alternating between clean and distorted guitar lines. Strong riffs and rhythms emerge, joined by harmonized vocals for a reverb-heavy climax in the latter part of the song. The preceding track, "The Bleeder," adds a surprising vibraphone line to harmonize with the clean guitars to heighten the mood of melancholia.

"An Overwhelming Calm" is anything but in its beginning, with the lyrical mantra of "I need to be here / They all disappeared," repeated in seeming bewilderment and shaky self-reassurance. Nevertheless, it does build to a beautiful cathartic lift and outro as keyboards enter and the band triumphantly leads to the calm. Overall, nothing on the album feels forced, unessential, purposely repetitive, or indecisive. This is melancholy music that neither brings down nor lifts up a mood - an affirmation of the beauty of the middle-ground by way of high-level songwriters.

Highs: "The Bleeder," "Assassination," and "An Overwhelming Calm."

Lows: Although they don't feel overly slow, the songs are lacking immediacy for attention-deficit-type listeners.

Bottom line: An evocative but understated and clean-sung Swedish melodic doom debut.

Rated 4.0 out of 5 skulls
4.0 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)