Some bands wander by mistake. On their third album Mute Books, Canada’s Auroch have made an album that, while not exactly bad, is very much not an album I want to listen to. On its face, Mute Books is the sort of death metal album that I should fall for without reservation – it’s spooky but riffy, sprawling but concise, punchy but still low and mean. And yet, the efficiency of its attack is blunted by its haphazardness, and its potential atmosphere is undercut by its straightforwardness.
The album’s problems fall into two camps: the overall songwriting approach and the drumming. With two-thirds of the band also part of Mitochondrion, the easy (and likely inevitable) comparison is that Auroch sounds like Mitochondrion deciding to make a (relatively) more straightforward death metal album. This means that Mute Books dials back the murk and makes the whole thing a lot less opaque, but it’s still punctuated by the sort of ideas that have marked Mitochondrion as one of the most forward-thinking of recent death metal(ish) groups. On Mute Books, however, the patience and subtlety of Mitochondrion have given way to an almost schizoid incoherence, as short blasts jut into slow, open churns with little guiding principle and riffs clamor for attention without an intelligible through-line to rally around.
What I can’t figure out about the drumming is if it’s actually horribly sloppy or if the drummer is constantly attempting to execute a move that’s more complicated than the song can support. The times when the drumming feels least connected to the rest of the band are those where it almost sounds like instead of just hitting straight blasts on 16th notes, the drummer is trying to hit triplets on the downbeat. If that’s the case, though, it flat-out does not work, because it makes the drumming sound more technical than the rest (even disregarding for a moment the fact that the drums are also mixed way too high in the album).
As a result, Mute Books is at its best when the drummer eases off the blasts. The guitar leads occasionally squeal off in cosmic stabs that are a bit Mithras-like, and Mute Books’s argument is most convincing when the riffs take center-stage, as on “He Wreathes the Cross,” where a twisty riff and plenty of pinch harmonics frame one of the most traditional death metal pieces here. Of the album’s two longer songs, “Say Nothing” is more successful because it feels more like a coherent song and less like a bunch of riffs and half-formed ideas hastily stitched in sequence. Chants and didgeridoo introduce the song, and are then reprised in the outro, and while the blasting midsection still suffers from awkward, overloud drumming, it at least seems to follow naturally what precedes it. Late-album highlight “Her Bidding” initially summons an effective atmosphere of suspended arpeggios, and the interplay between lightspeed and lurch is the sort of thing that Nile has built a wildly fruitful career out of, but while the song barely passes the three-minute mark, it flails itself into weakness by its close.
Auroch does many things independently that ought to contribute to a successful album, but the lasting impression is that Mute Books feels like a mean that hasn’t attempted to reduce the biasing effect of outliers. In a sense, it feels like one guy is trying to play in a grind band, another guy is trying to play in a murky death metal band, and the last guy is trying to play in a spooky occult black metal band. Imagine Necros Christos and Discordance Axis in a head-on collision, and then try to work yourself out of that headache.