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The Ritual Aura – Heresiarch

The Ritual Aura – Heresiarch

The Ritual Aura - Heresiarch

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Release Date: 10 November, 2023
  • Label: The Artisan Era
  • Musicians:
    Levi Dale - EBow, Guitars, Piano,
    Brandon Iacovella - Guitars, Vocals (backing),
    Szymon Miłosz - Bass,
    KC Brand - Drums,
    Diaro Irvine - Vocals
  • Favorite songs:
    Soulrending Materiae, Heresiarch
  • For Fans of:
    Beyond Creation, Warforged, Aethereus

The Ritual Aura first came on my radar when they joined The Artisan Era and to my great surprise, they are already at their 4th full-length release. The album in question is called “Heresiarch”, and as with all Artisan Era releases, I couldn’t resist giving it a spin, especially given that it has a big f***ing undead dragon on the cover artwork! But would the audio match the spectacular aesthetics of the visual, or will it be a flop? The answer can’t really be reduced to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, which is why the upcoming rant you are (hopefully) about to read through has been bestowed upon you with all the undead love and gruesome care that a tech-death aficionado can provide.

When I think “tech-death”, and especially when I think “big f***ing dragon”, the primary emotion that comes to mind is violence (it’s an emotion), and perhaps adrenaline (it’s an emotion as well). And this is where The Ritual Aura threw their first curveball at me, for this is absolutely not what I experienced when listening to this album. The brief intro, ‘Light’s Hope’, followed by the opener ‘Ailing Catharsis’ sets up a ghastly, ominous vibe, with a slow tempo and pervasive ritualistic aura (pun intended), and for a while I felt like I’m observing a sacrificial ritual, wrapped in creepy soundtrack vibes, rather than any high-energy delivery. At this point you’d think, maybe it’s just a song and then the tech-death takes off. And you’d be right, but not quite like you’d expect. Later on, as we venture into the not at all pretentious 3-part, 14-minute-long phenomenon titled ‘Heresiarch’, we do indeed receive the anxiously awaited blast beats, filthy vocals, guitar tech-noodling and Beyond Creation style wobbly bass that I find iconic for modern tech-death. But amidst all the speed and technical proficiency, adrenaline and violence still refuse to seep in. It’s at this point that I realize they take their name seriously. This album is indeed aimed to sound like a ritual, and to keep the listeners immersed and hypnotized, rather than blowing their heads off like Archspire did in their video for ‘Drone Corpse Aviator’ (watch on an empty stomach if you don’t know what I’m on about).

The Ritual Aura – The Watershed Misnomer

But how can this work? How can an album blast you with all the typical elements of tech-death and still not raise your adrenaline levels? How can it be loaded with blast beats but still be ‘atmospheric’? I imagine these are the sort of questions running through most reader’s minds at this point. And if they’re not, do forgive my ignorance, but I shall answer them anyway. I think the key trick here is in the production, sound design and use of orchestrations. The album is split almost half-way between death metal sections and soundtrack sections. A few songs (‘Light’s Hope’, ‘Soulrending Materiae’ and ‘Unholy Nadir’) are atmospheric instrumentals. They create an interesting soundscape with ominous string sections, as well as singled out violin or cello. Every now and then a wind instrument might make itself heard as well (my research indicates at tuba). We also get crackling fire and eerie synth sound effects, choral elements, clean (perhaps acoustic) guitars and the moody sound of the bass creeping in every now and then. And while these songs only make up a small section of the album’s run time, the metal songs also take their time, meandering through moody intros, and moving back and forth between the band’s instruments and the orchestral accompaniment. And not only are the atmospheric elements so dominant in terms of their run time, but the metal elements keep the creepy tension as well. You don’t get an explosive payoff. There’s something about the very flat production sound that makes the music come across as contained and controlled. You may think that’s not exciting, but I’m not sure exciting is what they were going for. Interesting and menacing are rather the words that come to mind. Think of it like this: If a full-blown tech-death album (Archspire, Beyond Creation, Obscura, Inferi, have your pick), is the scene where Gandalf fights the Balrog, then The Ritual Aura is the scene where Gandalf announces the Balrog’s appearance. It has the same level of monstrosity, the same grandiose presence, the same weight and dominance, but instead of an action scene, it is an imminent threat.

The Ritual Aura – In the Warmth of Its Glow, We Thrived

I will say at this point, that I do not think this perception of the music is universal. It is certainly how I experienced it, but you may actually find it way more energetic, particularly if your focus is on the playing itself instead of the production and overall mood. Because I’ll tell you, when we get into the details, the playing is mental. As mentioned previously, we get blast beat bombardments, wobbly bass wizardry, a vocal filth frenzy and some spectacular shredding. All the goodies! And the way they’re put together is quite interesting as well. The tempo isn’t fast, but the composition is written in such a manner that they enable blistering machine gun sounds over a slower tempo, which enables the transitions between fast and slow to happen seamlessly, without disrupting the flow. There are also heavily progressive sections with disrupted rhythmic elements and even some grave sounding doom metal aesthetics (‘Ailing Catharsis’). The melodic section is another key element that makes their ambiguous approach coherent in its expression. The guitar leads create a sense of continuity with the themes opened in atmospheric sections, and the orchestral elements often permeate over the heavy sections as well. And while sometimes they may get dynamic with their riff writing, odd time signatures, djent-like slices and wobbly bass movements, they also leave a lot of space for the music to breathe. They often do this by settling into tremolo picking guitar themes, synchronized with double bass on the drums, bringing the band together in a full barrage of sound. The one song I can point to that truly breaks the atmosphere and lets some violence loose is ‘The Watershed Misnomer’, which was funnily enough, released as a first single! And I just have to admire that approach to hyping up potential listeners without spoiling what they’re about to experience in the full-album.

The Ritual Aura – The New Plague

Before wrapping this up, I want to address two more elements that require a shoutout. The first one is the guitar lead element. Some solos are long and go over multiple techniques with a high preference for sweeps and swirls. But there are also many melodic themes and momentary spurts of shredding animating the music throughout the riff sections, even underneath the vocal parts. It’s quite impressive, especially given that it doesn’t make the music feel crammed. And the other element I want to point out is the vocal delivery. The level of layered filth almost makes me think of deathcore, but instead of trying to max out on ‘brutal points’ though breakdown-induced temper tantrums, Diaro Irvine uses the grotesque sounds as an element in the menacing mood of the album. It sounds serious and coherent rather than ridiculous.

So, there you have it, a true sonic ritual aura created by The Ritual Aura. It’s quite fun how this one played out. I walked in expecting to have a deathmatch with the dragon but ended up spending half the time meandering through the smelly swamps that surround it and wondering what sort of voodoo witchcraft those bald sorcerers are up to. This also goes to show that the artwork is very much in tune with the musical content. I give a lot of credit to the originality of their approach, which allowed them to make something surprising in the tech-death scene that I feel is getting increasingly saturated at this point. But it also has a few drawbacks. An album that scores so many points on the atmospheric side doesn’t quite get you amped up on excitement, which I suppose will be the expectation for many. It also tends to get a bit repetitive with some of their technical tropes (particularly sweeps) and creepy vibes. By the time you’re sitting through the closer, ‘Denouement Knell’, you’ve pretty much had your fill and are waiting for it to be done. Or maybe I have to get away from social media and stop craving instant gratification… Don’t take my word for everything. Go give it a try and form your own opinion!

Track List:

  1. Light’s Hope (00:52)
  2. Ailing Catharsis (03:59)
  3. Heresiarch I: Bruma Aeterna (04:02)
  4. Heresiarch II: Enduring Prophecy (03:54)
  5. Heresiarch II: Devouring Sun (06:23)
  6. Soulrending Materiae (03:39)
  7. In the Warmth of Its Glow, We Thrived (04:51)
  8. The New Plague (06:32)
  9. Unholy Nadir (01:58)
  10. The Watershed Misnomer (04:36)
  11. Denouement Knell (15:17)

About the Author

Andrei Dan

Born and raised in Romania, currently living and studying in the Netherlands, Andrei was introduced to both classic and modern prog at once when he discovered Symphony X and Intervals in 2015. He has quickly grown fond of all the sub-categories of metal but keeps a focus on progressive or innovative music. Most of his free time is spent keeping track of new artists or releases and visiting concerts.

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