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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.

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One of the US most underrated death/black metal acts surely must be Maryland-based Aurora Borealis. The band’s beginnings can be traced to Atlanta, Georgia metal band Lestregus Nosferatus, who formed in the mid-to-late 1980’s. The band is centered around producer/engineer Ron Vento (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards) and a pool of session musicians. While the band initially cut a rough demo at a rehearsal studio in Atlanta, Georgia it was the Morrisound produced “Mansions Of Eternity” that became its first true calling card. Dealing with Egyptian subject matter lyrically, and having Puerto-Rican skinsman Tony Laureano (later of Angelcorpse, Malevolent Creation and Nile) behind the drums it is an often overlooked but vital part in the Aurora Borealis catalog. The EP is a majestic platter of European death/black metal that is melodic, technical and truly epic sounding in parts. It is the template for all of the band’s later recordings.

“Mansions Of Eternity” comprises of three new tracks, and two re-recorded tracks from Vento’s previous outfit. The three new tracks display a greater understanding of what the older demo tracks sought to accomplish. The standout tracks of the EP are ‘Weighing Of the Heart’ and the refurbished ‘Slave to the Grave’. The former for its overall intensity, crunchy rhythms and restless drumming while the latter is remembered for its highly atmospheric sounding keyboard intro with chilling chiming funeral bells. The ominous 80-second intro section to this track is the definite high water mark of the EP. There are some superficial similarities with Cenotaph track ‘Tenebrous Apparition’ (from the 1992 “The Gloomy Reflections Of Our Hidden Sorrows” demo tape) in its usage of minimal keyboards, but the Aurora Borealis song sounds more controlled and elegant in its construction. All of these three new tracks are significantly more diverse in their dynamic range, with winding song structures, refined and technical playing from all involved and compelling time changes to keep them interesting through out.

As a prelude to the antiquity they would explore later “Mansions Of Eternity” is about Vento’s fascination with primordial Egypt. The EP more or less follows the events that happened to a fallen royalty. ‘Crowned With Embalment’ details the principles and practices of mummification. ‘Weighing Of the Heart’ deals with the titular event wherein the heart of the deceased is weighed upon scales before Osiris, the god of the Dead and afterlife, and Thoth, the deity of wisdom. ‘Valley Of the Kings’ explains the history, and purpose of the valley located on the west bank of the Nile. ‘Slave to the Grave’ and ‘Sixteenth Chamber’ don’t fit the Egyptian motif of the preceding tracks but flow seamlessly with them otherwise. Both were re-recorded cuts of Vento’s previous death/black metal band Lestregus Nosferatus, who were based out of Atlanta, Georgia.

While the songs generally are played at a steady midpace the band already integrated blast-parts, a stylistic element which would become more prevalent a few years down the line with the arrival of Krisiun and Hate Eternal. In comparison to a lot of vocalists at the time Ron Vento’s vocals are more serpentine and rasping linking them more directly to the emerging second wave Scandinavian black metal sound of the day. The leads/solos are of the Chuck Schuldiner variety in the sense that they are emotive and in service of the song, and not showy or excessively technical for their own sake. That the band’s sound would be mimicked wholesale by Floridian unit Order Of Ennead years later is testament to the music’s enduring legacy, and its impact on the American scene.

The EP was recorded as a duo at the hallowed halls of Morrisound Studios in Tampa, Florida in 1996 with sound guru Scott Burns producing. For this outing vocalist Ron Vento handled lead, rhythm and acoustic guitars along with playing bass guitar and keyboards. Tony Laureano had only done a demo recording in 1993 with local Tampa death metal act Ashtaroth before being enrolled in Aurora Borealis. Based upon his performance on this EP he would later secure prestigious recording – and touring opportunities with institutions as Acheron, Angelcorpse, Malevolent Creation and Nile. History would note that Laureano had the entire EP worked out and rehearsed in a week’s time. Aurora Borealis was different from most American bands at the time as their lyrics didn’t deal with the usual subjects of gore, horror or occultism. Like German band Apophis, and fellow American units Nocturnus and Nile they were more interested in history, mythology and ancient cultures, in this case Egyptian antiquity. The artwork by Jay Marsh reflects this as it depicts a number of gargantuan moonlit pyramids during nighttime. As a prelude to its corresponding debut “Mansions Of Eternity” forms the ideal introduction to Aurora Borealis as it merges its past with its immediate future.