On its second album Aurora Borealis settled into its own. Retaining the services of drummer Derek Roddy, the duo was now operating as a self-contained unit. Crafting “Northern Lights” on its own terms and in its own time, it is a refining of the sound first heard on “Praise the Archaic Lights Embrace”. Although bass guitarist Jason Ian-Vaughn Eckert didn’t partake in any of the actual recordings, he did contribute minimally to the songwriting of the album. “Northern Lights” puts more emphasis on the black metal aspect of Aurora Borealis’ death/black metal without sacrificing any of its crunchiness.
Undeterred by the defection of bass guitarist Jason Ian-Vaugh Eckert “Northern Lights” increased the overall levels of speed, versatility and technicality in the band’s songwriting without losing any of its death metal foundation. Of the records so far this one is the most overly black metal sounding in terms of riffing. The usage of sparse atmospherics and sound effects should make this readily apparent. Being the second and last appearance for Derek Roddy “Northern Lights” is his star-making performance. The groundwork for the recordings he’d cut with Hate Eternal is laid here. Ron Vento’s rasps are at its most serpentine, and “Northern Lights” exudes a sense of majesty and elegance unlike any other US band on the scene, except for maybe that year’s Immolation album.
More than ever before “Northern Lights” expands upon the subject of European mythology, history and folklore, along with more celestial themes. “Northern Lights” puts more of a focus on Scandinavian and Greek antiquity in its lyrical concepts. ‘Thrice Told’ lyrically references several early Aurora Borealis songs, specifically those of the “Mansions Of Eternity” EP. ‘Enter the Halls’ deals with the Viking interpretation of the afterlife, namely Valhalla. Valhalla is the English equivalent of the Old Icelandic Valhöll meaning "Hall of the Slain”. Valhöll is the abode of the old Norse god Óðinn and the hall in which he welcomes his fallen warriors, the Einherjar. The cut features guest vocals by Kevin Quirion (Council Of the Fallen, that later transformed into Order Of Ennead). ‘Draco’, deriving its name from the Latin denominator for dragon, deals with said mythological creatures. ‘Sky Dweller’ is simultaneously about the Northern Lights of the album title, and the band’s name – as it is about Aurora, the Roman goddess of light. It opens with an acoustic guitar bit as well. The monstrous serpentine creature known as the Lernaean Hydra from the Twelve Labours of Heracles in Greek mythology is the subject of the aptly named ‘Hydrah’. Suprisingly, ‘Dream God’ is more vague as to its origins, but could possibly be inspired by Ole Lukøje, from the Danish folklore tale of the Sandman. ‘Distant’ is an instrumental percussion track that displays Roddy’s versatility as a drummer, and serves as an excellent closing song.
The duo cut the album over a three-month period in late 1999 in an early incarnation of Vento’s own fully professional recording compound Nightsky Studios. “Northern Lights” was released through Vento’s own label imprint Nightsky Productions a year later. The production is leagues better than the Bob Moore produced predecessor. It doesn’t quite have the same organic warmth and fullness that the subsequent albums would have. In comparison to a lot of other American records of the time, it does sound a lot crunchier and not nearly as digitally enhanced. Roddy’s signature snare drum sound can be heard here, and there’s a good organic crunch to the drum production avoiding the overly processed and dry, sterile tones of the day. All music was written by Ron Vento and Derek Roddy, except ‘Images in the Nightsky’, written by Roddy and Small, and part of ‘Dream God’, written by Jason Ian-Vaughn Eckert. As before the artwork was crafted by long-time artist Jay Marsh, and fitting of the greater focus on European antiquity, and mythology central to the canvas is an immense Pantheon-like structure bathed in the typical azure skies that came to characterize the band’s early artworks with Marsh.
In many ways “Northern Lights” is the creative summit of the band’s early phase. Much of its later work, specifically those of the sciencefiction oriented second era, appears to be based upon this album’s template. Like the preceding album, and the debut EP “Northern Lights” is consistently strong, and there’s no weak moment to speak of. In the early 2000s the American death metal scene was stagnating in the creative sense, as bands went out of their way to imitate California outfits Deeds Of Flesh, and Disgorge. Unlike many of its contemporaries Aurora Borealis was unaffected by the trend, and wisely avoided the limitation of imitation that would effectively neuter many that did. While American in execution the spirit of “Northern Lights” is thoroughly European, and Scandinavian above all else. “Northern Lights” further cements Aurora Borealis status as the most underrated, and underappreciated combo of its region. Despite the apparent tribulations the band forged onward. This headstrongness, determination and conviction in its craft would eventually pay off dividends as the band was now only two records away from its critically acclaimed second era. The future begins here…