Vancouver’s Auroch are my favorite kind of metal band. They play an experimental sort of death metal, they keep their albums relatively brief (but aren’t afraid of an extended track or two), they have stunning and cohesive art, and they show a monumental growth from album to album. Included in that monumental growth is, of course, the band’s new album Mute Books. It not only ticks each item on this silly list, but it may well be Auroch’s defining statement as a band thus far.
Ever since I saw them live at Migration Fest, a wonderful way to kick off a Sunday afternoon by the way, I’ve been eagerly anticipating their latest material. The band played 3 new tracks during their set and even amidst the chaos and somewhat audibly difficult to discern acoustics of a live performance those songs were a promising look into what Mute Books would have to offer us. As it turns out it’s an offer we can’t refuse.
The album itself is divided into 3 chapters, the first of which, titled “Trefoil is the Grail of perdition,” is the most musically experimental of the group. Album and chapter opener “Billowing Vervain” starts out reminiscent of the score of a horror film, distant and muffled keys shimmering in an unsettling manner. The atmosphere is not long for this world though as the song quickly turns into the kind of controlled chaos heard throughout the band’s previous effort Taman Shud. The storm eventually passes and gives way to an eerily hypnotic tapped guitar. This is by far the longest song Auroch has ever written (at least for their 3 LPs) but you’d never guess that while listening to it. It slithers and writhes in an elegant manner, or at least as elegantly as something so monstrous possibly can.
Similar in nature is the final track of the opening chapter, “Say Nothing,” the second longest track on the album and one that sees itself introduced with chanting. It does a wonderful job of really merging the more primitive pieces of music on the album with their more mystical and mind warping counterparts. These longer tracks really find the band hitting their experimental stride, so it’s almost a shame that there aren’t more of them.
I say “almost a shame” because the shorter songs aren’t exactly slouches, and certainly aren’t just by-the-numbers retreads either. Brief numbers like “The Keeping,” itself part of the final chapter “Passages to Tophet,” manage to be diverse and jump from a mid-paced steamroller to malfunctioning airlock nightmare and back again in just over two minutes. Middle track “Tipharethigirion” is the closest thing to Taman Shud you’ll get here, but even it feels upgraded, taken to the next level of songwriting with more memorable passages and riffs. One area that I’m eager to dive into that I can’t just yet are the lyrics. I don’t have them and the vocals aren’t always the easiest to understand, but the song and chapter titles reference all manner of alchemic and biblical things, so I’m very curious to see what it all means.
On Mute Books Auroch really sound like a band that have found their footing and are starting to get weird with it. Everything here is just flat out better. The production, the instrumentation (Zack Chandler sounds like a man possessed on drums), the experimentation… it all just comes together so smoothly to create what is, to date, Auroch’s best album. If you fancy yourself a fan of death metal that’s challenging, chaotic, discordant, dissonant and willing to mess with your expectations then Mute Books won’t disappoint. Hell, it may even surprise you.