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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…

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The full-length debut of Waldorf, Maryland death/black metal combo Aurora Borealis is where the band largely etched out its musical niche, but was still searching for its identity lyrically. “Praise the Archaic Lights Embrace” introduced bass guitarist Jason Ian-Vaughn Eckert, who would reconnect with the band many years later and become a trustworthy ally for mainman Ron Vento. In comparison to the preceding EP the debut increases the overall level of speed and technicality, and is much more bass-heavier due to the addition of a dedicated bass guitarist. “Praise the Archaic Lights Embrace” follows the template laid out with the preceding EP, and expands upon its central ideas while further cementing the band’s keen sense of European melodicism and riff construction.

Substituting for the defected Tony Laureano is South Carolina native Derek Roddy, who in the years before had made a name for himself through his work with Malevolent Creation and its splinter project Divine Empire. It is the first of two Aurora Borealis albums featuring his percussive skills. With the genre in a state of flux a lot of bands were pushing the genre into heavier and faster territory Aurora Borealis, to its credit, remained tasteful in its elegant and fully realized epic death/black metal paradigm. Leading the charge of blast-oriented death metal bands were the likes of “Depise the Sun” era Suffocation, Krisiun, Centurian and the Erik Rutan-led Hate Eternal. Much like long-running Florida death metal combo Monstrosity, Aurora Borealis was a proving ground for both Derek Roddy and Tim Yeung before moving onto bigger opportunities.

“Praise the Archaic Lights Embrace” is a consistently strong record that has no lowpoints, or notable defects to speak of. In comparison to what come later the album is squarely in the death metal end of the spectrum. Coming to the fore than on the EP is Vento’s sense for melodicism and structure. By this time the American death metal was undergoing a transformation as forces such as Deeds Of Flesh, and Disgorge pushed for new extremes. There’s a distinct European flair about “Praise the Archaic Lights Embrace” while its sense of structural melodicism is Swedish in construction. Much like institutions such as Unleashed, and to a lesser degree John Zwetsloot-era Dissection (“The Somberlain”) without said band’s overt Iron Maiden stylings, and its tendency to sound like a death metal focused NWOBHM outfit. What makes Aurora Borealis different as a band from actual European outfits is that it sets its European stylings within a solid American death metal framework. While the material is technical it never forgets that songwriting is the key priority. The album is uniformly strong, and internally consistent. The standout tracks for the session are ‘Offerings Of Jade and Blood’, ‘For Your Comprehension’ and the instrumental ‘Constellations Embellished With Chaos’.

The glaring omission of an apostrophe in the album title aside, the lyrics are well crafted and largely deal with mythology, ancient cultures and history. Unlike many underground metal lyrics these are intelligently written, and from them can be gleaned that Vento is an enthusiast of the subject. Only ‘War Of the Rings’ and ‘For Your Comprehension’ differ from the bulk in that the former deals with the Lord Of the Rings novels and the latter is more introspective and personal compared to the rest of the record. The album is paced masterfully in every sense. Even though it contains two back-to-back instrumentals with ‘Constellations Embellished With Chaos’ and ‘Calm Before’ it never takes away from the record’s overall effectiveness. There were definitely heavier, and faster alternatives available on the American scene when this record saw release, but none of them captured the European death/black metal sound as distinctively and effective as Aurora Borealis did here. That the band never really was able to get a footing in its own continent is probably due to the same reason. Aurora Borealis after all has its roots in European death – and thrash metal instead of the American ones as its competitors.

Although the album was recorded at Sound Lab in South Carolina with producer Bob Moore it should have sounded far better than it actually does. The production is on the thin side, and misses much of the preceding EP’s crunch. Moore had made a name for himself engineering the first Nile albums, but apparently didn’t give his all in producing this record. The album doesn’t sound bad in any way imagineable, but it only possesses a mere fraction of the power it should have held due to the fairly weak production job. However, all the instruments are distributed evenly across the mix, and each holds a clear and adequately fitting tone – yet none of it carries any real weight or heft in the grander scheme of things. The production is a mere sum of its parts, and nothing more. Neither was Bob Moore able to capture the band’s European tones. It was probably this experience that drove mainman Ron Vento into setting up his own Nightsky recording facility in order to properly capture his own vision, and those of his direct associates. Once again artwork was by rendered by Jay Marsh. This time around the vista seems to be set during nighttime inside of the Colosseum walls near an angelic statue

“Praise the Archaic Lights Embrace” builds upon the initial promise of the “Mansions Of Eternity” EP, and further fleshes out its concept, lyrically and musically. A number of tracks expand upon the preceding EP’s Egyptian theme, while others introduce the first celestial, and Scandinavian themes. Compared to its predecessors the songs are better structured, faster paced, and the overall melodic sensibility has increased. Despite its melodic leanings the music stays squarely within the American death metal format, although Vento’s serpentine rasp gives the whole a black metal aura. With the increased expansion of lyrical subjects Aurora Borealis is finally coming into its own. The band would unlock its full potential on “Northern Lights”, the successor to this debut, which is the penultimate Aurora Borealis record of the first era in every conceivable way. As far as debuts go “Praise the Archaic Lights Embrace” is exceptionally strong in what it does.