Before Beyond Creation, there was Augury. At the tail end of the 2000s, the Quebeckers were at the forefront of the proggy side of tech-death along with Anata and Obscura, and their 2009 LP Fragmentary Evidence is a too-often overlooked milestone in the genre – perhaps because so many contemporary tech death albums (Cosmogenesis, Those Whom the Gods Detest, Oracles, Everything is Fire) were just as good and bore follow-up releases. Yes, for a long time it seemed that Augury had been outright replaced by Beyond Creation, who snatched the torch of Montreal’s world-class tech death scene, but a bit shy of a decade later, here we are with Illusive Golden Age.
Augury‘s approach has evolved very little since Fragmentary Evidence, a non-development which fans are sure to welcome. Lapointe’s superlative bass intricacies stitch blackened blasts and oblique melodies into shape, finding a balance between the harsh and the heady. “Illusive Golden Age” boasts a near-clean-sung chorus that channels Gorod but turns its eyes to bleaker shapes in the end. The album’s heaviest moments still have the old-school death metal vibe of Defeated Sanity due to Lapointe’s ever-forward bass, and songs like “Mater Dolorosa” stun when one steps back to appreciate the sheer contrast between vermillion brutality and verdant progressive movements. The song’s ending solos rank among the most expressive and inventive in recent memory, as Marcotte & Loisel shirk accepted rhythms and twine their way into oblivion.
But these treasures are not so obvious; Illusive Golden Age can be obtuse, and it sports little in the way of immediate hooks. It both requires and rewards close attention. A listener has two avenues for attack – either listen for the world-class performances and hope to understand after time, or pore over each song with the keenest ear for composition. The former will prove most successful, as Augury‘s intentions remain at times opaque even after close examination of some songs. “Parallel Biospheres” feels scraped together despite clear repetition of motifs, and its constant changes in direction can be difficult to follow – yet this is that case in which sheer speed and technicality provide plenty of entertainment.
Augury make the eight-minute closer “Anchorite” Illusive Golden Age‘s most compelling and immediate movement, replete with brilliant melodies for bass and guitar, and it’s in this song as well as the album’s other highlights that their ambition shines clear. Just as in Fragmentary Evidence, this album marries the nostalgic and epic aesthetic of folk-black metal with the musicianship and scope of technical death metal, and does so to great success. The album does not pursue technicality or speed as ends, but as means to accomplish something they rarely take a role in. It is as if Augury are imitating a Chinese guóhuà painting via pointillism.
While the success – or indeed wisdom – of the endeavor is ripe for debate, the results of the discussion will not register with fans of the band’s previous work. That’s because they will be too consumed within Illusive Golden Age to care much for the thoughts of others. Happy in their cocoon of silken polyphony, very little protest will be heard. Though late, the album plays exactly as expected. A great strength, since expectations were high, but at the same time a nagging flaw. Illusive Golden Age cannot excite listeners in the way it yearns to, and for all its adventurous songwriting it still sounds like an album from the late 2000s; an album released just after Everything is Fire ignited the flame which has burned at the front of death metal for almost a decade now. For Augury to borrow from Ulcerate is unnecessary, but they sound too stagnant here for Illusive Golden Age to stand out in the current age. After almost a decade charring the lands around Obscura and Everything is Fire, where will progressive death metal burn next? Augury have no idea – and I had hoped they would.