originally written by Jim Brandon
The UK’s Sanctus Nex is a crafty musical serpent, for its adequacy is a bit distracting when trying to pinpoint just what does and doesn’t click on Aurelia. It’s a well-executed album that embraces all the modern flair of current black metal; a death overtone in moderation, general soundscape weirdness, riveting blast beats, calm interludes with clean guitar, and a cavernously non-screechy vocal delivery, so they lay down a very solid foundation even if the execution and assembly is occasionally unsteady. Beyond that, this is far less unorthodox than I was initially led to believe, but it still revealed a fair share of odd mannerisms which help maintain a fairly interesting chain of musical events.
“Exordium Of The Apostate” opens the album as a decent five-minute instrumental that smoothly lets the listener grow accustomed to their depressive but still buoyant style of foreboding, unfriendly black metal at an unrushed crawl. Soon after, “In Pursuit Of Albion” continues with a dirge-like beginning which quickly alternates between a more familiar mid-paced blast, with swirling early Keep Of Kalessin-ish riff dissonance that never quite reaches the intensity of something like Agnen: A Journey Through The Dark, while still evoking plenty of mood. But there is also a very odd feel to this entire disc, almost comparing a made-for-television movie with a lot of violence, but no plasma flow, to a regular theatrical release of the same nature which is far less violent, yet flooded with arterial spray. There is surely something murderous afoot, but somehow, nobody here is bleeding. Considering the trend of both black and death metal bands taking the most miserable and corrosive traits of each other and mixing them into something altogether unholy (Teitanblood, Portal, Ulcerate to a degree), Aurelia sounds almost…humane.
The production and songwriting is also in a weird, perhaps misguided codependency. As more of the rule than the exception, when the tempo accelerates to levels of faster thrash, or a blast beat, the snare vanishes. Not like a lot of black metal where the percussion is swallowed by a wall of white tremolo, but with a sudden absence of actual strikes through the beat. At first it seems as though the mix is so haphazard that the very muscular and sharply mixed snare strikes occasionally get muted, but upon closer listening, the skipping of the beat appears to be intentional. In theory, this seems like a very cool and unique way to execute faster percussive tempos, but in practice, it just sounds sloppily mixed if played at lower volumes. When things are at a slower, doomlike lunge, however, everything sounds very good and surprisingly heavy, more like Akercocke, but with the depth of earlier, more brooding Satyricon, as opposed to the more gothic leanings of A Forest Of Stars.
There’s also the lengths of the songs themselves, and the number of tracks to be contemplated. These tunes are most definitely not just one tempo and mood all the way through, and it makes me think the songs probably could have been split in half with each half developing even further upon their ideas. “Held In Reverence” and “Genesis Reversion” both could have been cut in two and made into four very different, textured songs, instead of being a pair of overlong, sprawling numbers that sometimes lose their way for a minute or two as they progress. Thankfully, the songwriting is still tasteful and seethes with a youthful hunger, so if there is a sin at all here, it’s possibly due to over-ambition, and certainly not for lack of taste, or skill.
Aurelia is an album that shows a band that already knows how to successfully capture a vibe of dread and keep it there, and despite taking a few chances as far as execution that end with mixed results, Sanctus Nex plays this game with a wealth of seemingly natural ability. Filled with quality, and a touch of occasional awkwardness, Aurelia still eludes boredom even if the overall presentation could have used some fine-tuning by way of creative editing, because the talent is there.