Over the years, black metal has evolved away from its roots and there are now endless sub-black metal genres, many bearing little resemblance to the original forefathers of the notorious genre. However, Scandinavian duo Æra have achieved that difficult balance, sounding contemporary while upholding the traditional values and roots of the genre.
The maturity shown on their debut full length belies the fact that they have only been going since 2017 as the opening track ‘Skaldens Død’ blasts straight into a caustic black metal assault where abrasive vocals sit atop an uncompromising barrage of blast beats and ice cold riffs before underlying melody temporarily achieves prominence, soaring majestically above the ferocious chaos.
In contrast, ‘Frost within’ has a slightly slower tempo with snarled vocals being spat out with venom. As the track evolves, the sweeping melodies return, working symbiotically with the prevailing ferocity before the giving way completely to a tranquil interlude of strings and piano before building back to the previous black metal assault closing this nine minute epic. ‘Rite of Odin’ opens with rasping vocals leading the charge of its visceral attack with the sound remaining organic reminding me of a lot of the rawer earlier Norwegian black metal releases. As the track draws to a close, clean vocals are used to good effect almost giving the feel of the calm that follows a storm.
This calm is soon shattered as ‘Profetien’ opens with howls followed by a more chanting style of vocals accompanying a pulsating rhythmic backdrop. After a couple of minutes, this evolves into the more familiar black metal style although the pulsating rhythm continues to dominate, eventually giving way to evocative clean vocals during a short acoustic passage.
Dynamic passages reminiscent of early emperor are prominent in ‘Join Me Tomorrow’ where swirling yet abrasive evocative melodies are vying for dominance with cutting vocals, before the album is brought to a close with ‘Norrøn Magi’ whose galloping rhythms give a respectful nod to their pagan origins, with the familiar snarled vocals mixing with pagan chants bringing this majestic opus to a close
Sure, this album doesn’t do anything new, but what it does, it does well, very well and it keeps the flame alive for traditional black metal which can only be a good thing.
8/10 Andy Pountney