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cover-aurora06“Timeline: The Beginning and End of Everything” heralded the second era of Aurora Borealis with the addition of new skinsman Mark Green, and the return of bass guitarist Jason Ian-Vaugh Eckert. What sets the second era of the band apart from the first, is the focus on sciencefiction as a recurring lyrical thematic. “Timeline” largely carries over the more pronounced death metal sound of “Relinquish” but combines it with sparse sound effects and the band’s patented elegant melodic sensibility. Self-produced, and independently released the album was widely praised, and much of the metal press (that had collectively ignored the band for the majority of its career up to that point) was now throwing superlatives at it. Aurora Borealis suddenly experienced a surge in popularity and name recognition.

Over the preceding few records Aurora Borealis had been hinting at a more abrasive death metal direction. “Timeline” cements what “Relinquish” foreshadowed years prior. Without losing its flair for European melodicism and structure Aurora Borealis’ second era is one that puts a larger emphasis on its death metal components, one that is characterized by increased levels of density and percussive propulsion. As celestial themes have been a recurrent theme through out Aurora Borealis’ lyrics, it isn’t much of a leap to see them into venture space – and sciencefiction themes as the main ingredient for its second era. “Timeline” is the debut of new drummer Mark Green, and the band’s first outing since “Praise the Archaic Lights Embrace” to feature bass guitarist Jason Ian-Vaughn Eckert. On top of that it is a highly ambitious concept album about the creation of the universe, mankind’s place within it and the exploration and colonization of space. This in no small part due to the fact that Vento’s father was a celebrated NASA scientist.

‘Crucible Of Creation’ is about the Big Bang. ‘Stygian Depths’ chronicles astral phenomena such as wormholes and event horizon. ‘A Creature Called Human (Among Other Things)’ is about creation of life on Earth, and hints at the possibility of life on various other planets across the galaxy. ‘The Evolution After Evolution’ details man’s constant scientific progress and understanding, which eventually births the space race. ‘The Only Space Race That Matters’ is about mankind’s self-destructive nature, and the futility of human life in a massive, uncaring galaxy. ‘Beyond the Oort Cloud’ is about the Oort Cloud, an immense spherical cloud surrounding the planetary system and extending approximately 3 light years, about 30 trillion kilometers from the Sun. ‘Tearing Holes In the Fabric Of Time’ suggests what could happen if the String Theory proved correct, and mankind’s genome and building blocks are planted on other habitable, and colonized planets to ensure survival of the species by alien creators. ‘The Rebirth’ details the cyclical nature of all lifeforms, and whether human life on Earth was just a coincidental happening, or an experiment by other, superior lifeforms.

For the first time an album is opened with an intro. ‘Our Legacy’ is a robot transmission of sorts that formidably sets up the mood, and concept behind the recording. ‘Stygian Depths’ is more black metal oriented in its chord progressions and riff set. ‘A Creature Called Human (Among Other Things)’ in construction, especially in its choice of riffs and drumming, recalls the Derek Roddy era of the band. The track is custodian to one of the best solos of the modern Aurora Borealis era that Vento has yet penned. ‘The Evolution After Evolution’ is vintage Aurora Borealis, and a song that works well enough on its own – but in combination with ‘The Only Space Race That Matters’ its effect is amplified. The sorrowful (but somehow triumphant) melodies through out ‘Tearing Holes In the Fabric Of Time’ wouldn’t have felt out of place on an No Fashion Records death/black metal album of yore. Likewise is the track’s midway transition into doom territory only natural given the choice of main melody. ‘Interlude to Cessation’ functions similarly to the aforementioned intro, as it is merely a moodsetting piece to set up closing track ‘The Rebirth’. That track, much like the album in its entirety, sounds as a combination of the elegant melodicism and epic song construction of the Derek Roddy era with the percussive propulsion and density of “Time, Unveiled” and more recently, “Relinquish”.

Like the preceding two albums much of its heaviness comes from the absolutely relentless drumming of newcomer Green. Sprinkled through out the record are vocal – and guitar effects that effectively add to the alien, and otherworldly atmosphere. The performances of Ron Vento (vocals, lead/rhythm guitars) and drummer Mark Green are stellar across the board. The bass lines by Jason Ian-Vaughn Eckert are far more traditional, and not nearly as acrobatic as those of the main performers. Obviously this was a missed chance as “Timeline” houses plenty of moments where more funky and adventurous bass licks would have added a layer of intricacy to what obviously are expertly composed songs. Vento’s vocals possess a hitherto unheard level of clarity and are incredibly well enunciated to emphasize the clever lyrics, and the heady concept of the album. At this juncture evident comparisons could be made to Theory In Practice side-project Mutant, and its lone album “The Aeonic Majesty” as both share more than a few stylistic commonalities. Of the two only this band remains active to this very day.

“Timeline” was recorded at Nightsky Studios in Waldorf, Maryland with Ron Vento producing. On all fronts it is the smoothest sounding Aurora Borealis release without sounding overly digital, or losing any of its bass-heaviness. Unlike a lot of contemporary productions the thundering bass guitar lies prominently in the mix. As with past releases the combination of sweeping arrangements, percussive death metal and Vento’s patented rasps “Timeline” heralds a new era for the band. While much heavier and faster overall Aurora Borealis retains its European sense for melodicism and structure while integrating it into a traditional but contemporary American death metal format. The artwork by Ron Miller fits flawlessly with the work of long-time designer Jay Marsh, but exudes a sense of modernity that its past records hadn’t. By all intents and purposes “Timeline” is the most conceptually complete Aurora Borealis effort of the second era.

On all fronts “Relinquish”, the fourth Aurora Borealis full-length, was a return to the past. Not since “Praise the Archaic Lights Embrace” had the band sounded so overtly death metal. The most important reason for this increase in heaviness and speed can be contributed to a returning Tony Laureano, who by this time had ended his association with South Carolina death metal titans Nile. The album is far more prominently death metal-oriented compared to the previous two albums, and it is heavy and unforgivingly fast to the point of exhaustion. While it is different stylistically from the preceding records it is a worthwhile exploration of Aurora Borealis’ heavier side, and one that could easy match, if not surpass, any of the big league players on the scene that year.

The thoroughly annihilating nature of “Relinquish” makes it architecturally closer related to Hate Eternal’s “King Of All Kings” and Krisiun’s “Black Force Domain” than any of the band’s more melodic prior records. Despite the overall increase in speed and percussive density Aurora Borealis retains its European riffing and melodic sensibility. Around this time Tampa, Florida combo Order Of Ennead was pushing a similar sound combined with extensive neo-classical solo’ing. While Order Of Ennead isn’t quite as punishing as Aurora Borealis is here, their big-name cast did steal the thunder of this record. It is plainly better than anything the other band put out. Aurora Borealis doesn’t completely abandon its established epic sound, which a track as ‘Let the Games Begin’ aptly demonstrates. In a time where metal productions were getting increasingly less bass-heavy “Relinquish” prominently features a throbbing bass guitar. Even though it offers far and few actual memorable passages, in the least it can be heard on the album. To hear the bass guitar this clearly had been becoming more of a rarity in recent times, especially in the death metal scene – where sterility, flatness and clinical soullessness was becoming the norm in both professional and home-recorded productions.

eAfter two more black metal oriented offerings “Relinquish” instead is in the tradition of “Praise the Archaic Lights Embrace”. The increased death metal aspect of the album can largely be attributed to the greater than before levels of speed, solos, and the percussive density that Tony Laureano brings to the proceedings. Also carried over largely from the debut, and its preceding EP, is the fascination with ancient Egypt and Rome. ‘Myths Of the Light’ is about the significance of light through out history, and mythology. ‘Let the Games Begin’ is about the gladiatorial fights of Rome in times immemorial. ‘Ravaged By Fire’ is about the Great Fire of Rome. ‘God Wills It’ details the occupation of the Dome Of the Rock by the Knights Templar during the Crusades. ‘The Red Flag’ is about piracy during the Age Of Discovery. ‘River Through the Skies’ continues Vento’s interest in ancient Egypt, whereas ‘Tonight We Feast’ is the band’s maiden voyage into Aztec mythology and history. ‘Black Snow’, given Vento’s predilection towards ancient Rome, in all probability is about the destruction of Pompeii by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

As always Tony Laureano has one of the best drum tones in the business. Much like his colleagues Derek Roddy and Tim Yeung he has a recognizable tone that sounds fantastic regardless of in which band setup it is used. There is something slightly thrashy about “Relinquish”, especially in regards to a track as ‘God Wills It’ with its multiple screaming solos. It is an aspect that was never truly explored within Aurora Borealis, and this deepening out of its sound only show the compositional skill of central figurehead Ron Vento. Once past the halfway mark the album shows its dynamic range with songs that focus less on straightforward blasting. Tracks as ‘The Red Flag’ and ‘River Through the Skies’ are prime examples of Aurora Borealis’ more technically inclined material for this session. ‘Tonight We Feast’ is compositionally closest to the “Mansions Of Eternity” EP. The album ends on an unspectacular note with ‘Black Snow’, which despite the presence of a few very worthwhile drum passages, isn’t quite the big album closer you’d imagine.

As per usual the album was recorded at Nightsky Studios in Waldorf, Maryland with Ron Vento producing. “Relinquish” is easiest the bass-heaviest of all Aurora Borealis releases with a drum tone that surpasses Nile’s “In Their Darkened Shrines” on which Laureano also featured. By all accounts “Relinquish” is the most straightforward of the band’s releases, and its most overt death metal oriented one. This comes in no small way due to the all-encompassing drumwork of Tony Laureano, whose kit features prominently in the mix. On the visual side there’s a break with the past in that “Relinquish” is the first to feature artwork by Mike Hrubovcak (Divine Rapture, Monstrosity, Vile), who would come to define the more cinematic vistas of the later albums in the band’s catalog. The vista is a neon-lit combination of Aztec, Teotihuacan, Mayan and Egyptian constructions. While accomplished in its own right, it makes you wonder what long-time artist Jay Marsh could have rendered with the same basic outline.

As it stands “Relinquish” is the only album of its kind in the band’s catalog to date. The increased level of speed often is detrimental to the grandiose melodies that are woven into each of the cuts, and not even the greater presence of masterful solos/leads can redeem them. Past Aurora Borealis albums would also be speedy, but never to the point of being a detriment to the classy songwriting that emphasized the intelligent lyrical content. While “Relinquish” is a lesser Aurora Borealis album, it is still leagues better than the average production of most underground death metal units. The sheer professionalism that is evinced from the product is something that precious few - even among the big name bands on major labels - can hope to match, or surpass. As a transitional record in between the band’s distinct first – and second era it comes off a lot more favorably, and this is (in hindsight) what it should be considered as. “Relinquish” is as pummeling, and straightforward as Aurora Borealis would come in its US death metal architecture. Without downplaying its Eurpean sense of melodicism and structure, it does prove that Aurora Borealis can easily compete with the brutal subset of the genre.