Steel Druhm isn’t the biggest fan of side projects by members of established bands. Sure, sometimes they work and we get some interesting music, but often they’re all hype and no humus. Aoria is a side project by members of such notable acts as Katatonia and October Tide and their debut The Constant doesn’t fall far from the tree of their main acts. This is a morose, gloomy, post-rocky doom opus, filled with long, winding odes to unhappiness, meant for extended bouts of solemn introspection and regret. Not cheery, not very aggressive, its like a mash-up of Katatonia, Swallow the Sun, Agalloch, Anathema, Ghost Brigade and Tool. With such quality influences and the more than capable execution by experienced musicians, The Constant ends up a surprisingly classy, emotional album with just enough shoegaze and drone. While it does drag at times and is sometimes plagued by a sense of “been there, heard it, got the shirt,” it ultimately ends up a triumph of strong writing and emotional execution with some truly breathtaking moments of depressive, yet beautiful music. Not bad for a side project, eh?
Opener “A Slow Moving Storm” is an instant introduction to what these chaps are capable of when everything clicks. Coming to life with ponderous doom riffs, it twists into Tool-esque moments of edgy, ominous, unsettling riffing accompanied by the very good and VERY Maynard Keenan inspired, anguished vocals by Erik Nilsson (Swarm of the Sun). The song packs a lot of emotional heft as it ebbs, flows and cascades from soft strumming – to doom pounding – to icy but sorrowful trem-riffing a la Agalloch – into post-rock feedback and ambient quiettude. It left me impressed and hooked in over its entire seven minute run.
“The Black Heart” features a sound and style much more in line with mid to late period Anathema and benefits from that same variety, of spacey, floating and beautifully minimalist doom rock. The sudden rise of those Agalloch-style melodious, but sad trem-riffs adds another dimension to the song and really makes it hum and cook when teamed with Nilsson’s forlorn vocals. “Assassination” features the most stripped-down riff possible along with interesting drum patterns as it takes the very best parts of the modern Katatonia and Anathema playbooks and welds them together with vintage Tool-isms. The result is quite remarkably addictive and sonorous. I keep going back to this one and its trance-like, hypnotic trilling. I’m sure this would go over huge with fans of any of the recent Anathema releases, but its darker and more morose.
Aoria includes an interesting instrumental track called “The Bleeder,” which features vibraphone alongside simple, soft riffing which slowly builds back to those nifty blackened riffs before ultimately peaking with a type of epic doom. After that, it’s the very Tool influenced and much more aggressive approach of “You Really Gave it All, Didn’t You?” and the quieter, more sedate close-out of “An Overwhelming Calm.” Both work well, especially the somewhat happy, upbeat moments during the latter, which comes as a bit of a surprise after so much downcast, unhappy tuneage.
Considering Aoria is a three person band, The Constant is a very deep, fully conceived soundscape, drenched in feeling and melody. Throughout the entire run, the band expertly picks and chooses the best elements of their influences and uses them to craft these paeans to pain in a way that keeps the listener locked in and captivated, despite the length of some of the songs.
The star of this dog and pony show is Erik Nilsson, hands down. His impassioned and emotional vocals make the songs feel very urgent and powerful, while his guitar-work operates as a perfectly moody counterpart, wringing as much power and feeling as possible from each moment. The presence of so much black metal inspired riffing alongside all the melodic trilling and doom strumming is a huge selling point and it really gives the material an extra layer of dark and raw emotion. This guy impressed me a lot with both his singing and playing.
I doubt this release will garner much attention, and that’s a real shame. This is surprisingly good depressive doom rock with more sincere feeling and pathos than a lot of established acts are capable of delivering. If you’re a fan of Anathema, Katatonia or Tool, you should make an effort to track this baby down. Its one of those little, unheralded gems that quickly drops through the cracks and gets missed by the masses. Bad on you if you all let that happen! Preaching adjourned.