The Swiss newcomers unveil a tapestry woven with Enlightenment principles and profound tenebrosity.
Words by Ryan McCarthy:
Every so often, you can tell you’re going to love a record from the opening note. As soon as sound starts pouring out of the speaker, some indescribable and almost unconscious part of yourself knows that this particular piece of art was meant to find its way to you. This was the case for me with AARA’s second full length, En Ergô Einai. I wasn’t familiar with the band before this release, but after visiting the trio's first record So fallen alle Tempel (which was only released last year) and seeing how much they’ve grown since the band’s inception in 2018, I have high hopes and expectations for the future of this project. The three individuals involved in AARA, Berg and Fluss (Mountain and River in German) along with drummer J, have chosen to hide their identities, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they’re veterans of the black metal scene considering the level of talent on display on this record.
But enough of that. Let’s begin with a brief overview of what you can expect on a purely sonic level when first experiencing En Ergô Einai. The vocals are just about as high pitched as I imagine human voices are capable of going. Yet in spite of this fact, and unlike other bands who employ similar vocal stylings, they’re very present in the mix. They aren’t necessarily loud, but neither do you have to strain to hear them. Understanding them, of course, is another matter entirely. The drumming is positively brimming with creative fills and powerful blasts that carry these compositions forward and add another layer of engaging musicianship. Never overly flashy, the drum work on En Ergô Einai is the foundation upon which the sprawling, uniquely European artifice that is this record is built. The riff-work tends toward an abundance of melody and melancholy, without ever descending entirely into the Saturnine realm that similarly dispirited bands inhabit. Mood and musicianship reign supreme here, a point upon which I will now harp ad nauseam.
This record seems to be intentionally channeling the compositional form, if not the melodies themselves, of Baroque chamber music. In fact, now that I mention it, this almost feels like one composition comprised of five distinct movements. I’m sure AARA isn’t the first band to intentionally structure an album this way, but they are the first that I’m aware of — and they do it damn well. The very beginning of the album is an ambient, almost neoclassical guitar passage courtesy of Vindsval of BLUT AUS NORD. The riff beginning at 3:43 in Arkanum immediately reminded me of PACHELBEL’s Canon in D, which is especially bizarre considering what a relaxing, uplifting piece of music that is. Yet the classical associations persist throughout the entirety of the record, and they seem to add a level of serenity and calm to the rest of the songs. The opening riff of Stein auf Stein demonstrates this sublime, almost Mozart-esque tone especially well. This brings me to something that I think AARA does well in a very general sense: they put an incredible amount of thought into the composition and enactment of the melodies on this record. Any band can claim to be influenced by classical music; it takes a truly impressive group of musicians to actually demonstrate this influence without explicitly needing to bring your attention to it.
I want to quickly discuss what this record is “about” in a thematic sense. I intend to be brief not because there’s no depth to the content of En Ergô Einai, but because I suspect that Messrs. Berg, Fluss, and J fully intend for the listener to relate to this record on their own terms and in an intensely personal way. According to the band, “…En Ergô Einai serves as a tribute to the duality in man's pursuit of perfection and the futility found therein.” Perfection and futility are a strange pair of adjectives, but somehow the atmosphere that AARA have crafted on this record beautifully encapsulates both of these seeming opposites. Of course, it goes without saying that the album art is brilliantly executed and only adds further to the mystique and charm of this artistic offering.
Something I really want to touch on before closing out this review is the very real sense of ethereality created on this record. This isn’t just a collection of five songs; this is a window into a different reality. Indeed, the band consciously “[draws] inspiration from the Age of Enlightenment in eighteenth century Europe…” AARA explicitly states that the five tracks on En Ergô Einai are meant to
…[lead] the listener into … the journey of man's search for knowledge and meaning in the times of enlightenment. For the first time, man is confronted with the idea of the existence of an individual, detached from religion and classes - driving forward the development of science and culture. A constant alternation of emotions and moods in the song structure portrays the rift between new and old, expresses the detachment from the conventional and euphoric mood. This is the beginning of a development that will plunge man into deep questions and the demand for significance. Man between the search for meaning and the bitter insight of his own insignificance.
Not quite the past, not quite the future, you get the sense that this music comes to us from some realm of creation utterly outside of our own. It isn’t a frightening sense, but neither is it an entirely comfortable one. It’s as if AARA are privy to information and visions that the rest of us just can’t quite comprehend, and this record is an attempt by them to translate that information into terms we can grapple with. Or maybe I’ve been reading too much cosmic horror lately. Either way, AARA have captured the aura of an inaccessible place and time on this record that makes it feel truly transcendent.
En Ergô Einai will be available on April 3rd via Debemur Morti. You can preorder it HERE.