You may not have noticed but 2019 has been pretty fucking shitty for black metal thus far.1 Fortunately, the same dude behind Nightbringer and Akhlys (the so-called “Naas Alcameth,” presumably because “Kyle Spanswick” wasn’t brutal enough) has decided to right the ship by unleashing unto the world his first release under the Aoratos moniker. Gods Without Name promises a particularly theological (but nameless) acclamation of the genre and I’m delighted to report that your black metal collection should now be one record fuller.
There’s more than a whiff of Akhlys about Aoratos. The music bridges scything, icy melodies with warped, somewhat dreamy atmospheres; these dreams are less post-rock-influenced as they’re more nightmarish. What’s most impressive about Gods Without Name is that it’s atmospheric without relying on ambient passages or keyboards. Instead, the core black metal and its core riffs are highly atmospheric themselves. This sometimes manifests through an unsettling lurch, as on “Holy Mother of Terror,” and sometimes through faster tracks with a more deliberate pace as on “Of Harvest, Scythe and Sickle Moon.” “Holy Mother of Terror” typifies the record as a whole as it feels like it’s stretching, pulling apart at the seams, but the urgent and curiously memorable guitar riffs focus the music. The atmosphere similarly evokes Zhrine as there’s a draping gloom but each song is gripping in its own way.
I would even go as far as to say that Gods Without Name delivers sadistic treatment to its listener. The sharp edge of the guitar melodies will cut under your skin and stay there and yet it’s never an ‘easy’ listen. “Thresher”2 demonstrates this quality as it features a faux choral layer, a big guitar solo and a shout-along lyric at its finale; these, along with the memorable guitar melodies, may theoretically suggest hooks on to which one can hang. However, the manner in which the choir dissatisfyingly fades in then out, the uncomfortable squeal of the solo and the wicked, edgy rasp utilized by the vocalist only contribute to the feeling that the record is trying to unsettle those experiencing it. Nonetheless, this deft composition of that which is ‘enjoyable’ but is actually punishing belies the subtle and clever song-writing about which Aoratos may boast.
If I must complain it’s that the record’s pacing is slightly awkward. The impact of “The Watcher on the Threshold” at track six of nine is waning given the demanding nature of the music. It’s followed by a “Prayer of Abjection” which is a welcome breather but its position in the album is a little late, especially as the subsequent track shifts between heavy and light passages and is, therefore, itself more naturally dynamic. I’m also not convinced that the ambient introduction and conclusion (“Parallax I” and “II”) are entirely necessary; they aren’t bad and feel appropriately executed but not much is lost by not listening to them as the remainder is terrifically atmospheric without ambient passages on which lesser bands often rely to convey mood. On the plus side of the structure, I appreciate that Gods Without Name flows pleasingly across tracks as it’s a cohesive release but each part is also distinct.
I’ve made fewer complaints on albums I’ve rated more poorly but it illustrates the great strengths of the Aoratos project that it attains my highest rating of the year thus far and that rating in a year which has unrelentingly exposed excellent black metal releases. Gods Without Name sits very comfortably (or uncomfortably) among such company and more than merits the time of not just fans of black metal but those who enjoy music which pushes the boundaries of what’s comfortable.