There’s no shortage of crabby old-school black metal fans who would like you to believe that the scene as a whole has strayed so far from the original recipe that it’s hardly worth acknowledging enthusiasm at this point. You may wish to ask said codgers, “Why, you grumpy old coughing vintage clunkers? Why do you feel this way,” and most of them will dance around issues pertaining to the absence of evil, danger, frost or “passion for all things primordial,” all to varying degrees. Funny thing is, these grumblers are correct. At least to an extent. But it was an inevitability that was established very early on through the works of trailblazing bands such as Ved Buens Ende, Fleurety, Sigh, Master’s Hammer et al that took one of black metal’s more specific key characteristics—lawlessness—and let the lightning loose.
One can obviously take the idea of “lawlessness” from multiple angles, but in this particular situation we’re talking specifically about the idea of lawlessness in the form of mutiny—mutiny against death metal’s “relaxed look,” its interest in popularity, and its strangely restrictive extreme metal boundaries. This was a large part of what made the second wave of black metal so vital. But what’s equally interesting is the truth that almost as soon as black metal’s second wave established its dissension and subsequent reconnect with metal’s dangerous and chaotic tenets, records such as Written in Waters and Min Tid Skal Komme dropped in to challenge black metal’s confines and remind it that lawlessness can very easily become a double-edged sword.
In short, black metal has been walking hand-in-hand with not following the rules for decades, so it should be of little surprise to see consequences on both ends of the spectrum resulting in cancelled tours and renderings peppering NPR’s All Songs Considered. That venerable “danger” element is a particularly tempting one to flaunt, because it’s effective all on its own and also works well as a yin to a more innocuous indie or post- yang to boot. Humans love the Danger Zone, baby. That’s why we jump out of airplanes and date total shitbags.
Something that’s particularly refreshing about 2 is the fact that Grey Aura achieves many of the same sort of outsider idiosyncrasies that a number of their avant-garde peers achieve—a sense of elegance and stylishness that underscores atmosphere—but none of these elements ever end up hitting the listener over the head with a mood that’s unduly maudlin, fragile or ethereal.
A fairly requisite layer of pretentiousness is still here, too—this record is as haughty as James Joyce discovering Radiohead for the first time. But the overarching theme of madness always lurks, so even when a song like “Beschonken slaapwandelaar” (“Drunken Sleepwalker”) goes fully noir, it still feels more along the lines of Virus / Momento Collider than it does any band specifically designed to be jazz noir.
When things are more abrasive, the underlying madness swirls around a very precise form of black metal that’s not unlike something you might expect to hear from a band such as Dødheimsgard in the modern age, but with a vocalist that almost sounds as if he’s hollerin’ his case to Mean Gene Okerlund before setting foot in the ring. Drummer Bas van der Perk is a beast, and Grey Aura ain’t the kind of band to bury the bass behind a wall of noise, so be sure to get the album into a nice set of headphones at some point.
The rest of the fare is comparably adventurous and eccentric. “Parijs is een portaal” (“Paris is a Portal”) has a sprinkling of Lugubrum in its corners, “De drenkeling” (“The Drowning Man”) sports a bit of a beer hall swing, and “Sierlijke schaduwmond” (“Ornate Shadowmouth”) does a fine job of blendering most all of the band’s tricks together into one stretched, ten minute closer. All in all, it’s a journey of a little over 30-minutes that does indeed feel as if it tells half a book’s story, so mission absolutely accomplished.
The fact that 2: De bezwijkende deugd is considered “demo material” leading up to the band’s official sophomore full-length is quite promising, both in terms of the band’s technical dexterity and the production proficiency. It demonstrates the truth (once again) that you don’t necessarily have to use a fancy studio or have a major label (NOTE: a cassette version is still available through the always forward-thinking Tartarus Records) backing you up to sound like you have the advantage of both. In the end, all you really need is a genuine passion for what you’re creating and a potential audience that cares. Grey Aura has that first bit covered in spades. It’s obviously up to you to decide if you’d like to join the ranks of the latter.