I don’t often review black metal – but, then again, Willowtip doesn’t often release black metal. Those familiar with the label know it for its commitment to releasing brutal and bizarre death metal. The label counts among its ranks such luminaries as Defeated Sanity, Unfathomable Ruination, and has a history with plenty of other bands who push the boundaries of death metal and grindcore. One wonders what Aodon have to do with all of that. Intrigued, and certain in the label’s ability to sniff out quality acts, I decided to find out.
Weeks later, I’m still not sure of the answer. Aodon’s debut, Sharphood, was a black metal album with a hint of Icelandic sourness, sung in rasping French, and still true to the second wave’s Scandinavian origins. The approach is a bit middle-of-the-road, but never quite middling. 11069 follows suit, tidied up a bit by label support; the same intensity with better mastering and a bit more polish. Opener “Les Rayons” wastes no time proving this, broadcasting stuttering riffs and air-raid leads over furious drumming. You won’t hear anything on 11069 that you haven’t before, but Aodon make that a treat rather than a burden; the album is digestible and familiar without lacking vitality.
11069 performs best when managing its commitments to atmosphere and intensity. The stark and atmospheric “L’echo” moves slowly, building on propulsive drumming and simple leads, sputtering flames before ending with a subdued guitar duet. It’s a song I would more expect from Varaha than Misþyrming, but Aodon shove that quiet away with “L’infime,” falling back into rapid-fire palm-muted tremolo riffs that creep forward with a militaristic gravity. But much as Aodon excel at keeping pace, they at times fall short in keeping attention. Those looking for the intricate leads and spectacular setpieces of a Misþyrming or Ars Magna Umbrae record will come away from 11069 empty-handed. None of the riffs or melodies in 11069 are remarkable, but cemented together they form a work stronger than any of them alone would imply. At times that’s enough, but I do find myself wanting something more from 11069, songs that feel more climactic and differentiated, moments that crackle with inspiration.
11069 only hints at such things. “Le parfum des pluies” provides an acceptable climax for the record, a more heartfelt and powerful song than any of the others, yet only by a small degree. By the end of the record, 11069 still seems unfinished. The band don’t need to write more, just write better; take a few risks, make a few mistakes, make yourselves known. Aodon built the foundations for a very good album, but have covered that skeleton with a dull façade. Engineered rather than architectural, the record has not a crack in its foundation nor an arch or balcony on its roof. No matter how I pick it apart 11069 stands up, but for what?
Aodon manage their time well enough and play with just the right degree of fervor to make 11069’s dull ideas catch a shine. The band are obviously serious about their work, but I fail to appreciate what in the album they can be so committed to. 11069 feels produced for need rather than a desire, made well to serve a utilitarian end. Contrasted with the unbound creativity of the best of Willowtip’s roster, Aodon seem out of place in both their genre and approach to art; while they share the intensity seen in the most out-there bands the label has to offer, they simply don’t produce confrontational or provocative art. That’s enough for some, but not quite enough for me.