Aurora is a legendary release in the neofolk / military pop canon. First released in 1992, it helped to inspire others to incorporate a whole group of elements that persist to this day: cabaret melodies and instrumentation, chanson structure where the vocals predominate and the instruments are used as background or rhythm, and the romanticization of ‘Old Europe’, linked with the views of philosophers like Julius Evola (whose portrait adorns the CD itself). The album was originally released on the cult label Cthulhu Records and reissued ten years later by Old Europa Café and the project’s own Misty Circles. So this is actually the third iteration and the second to have come from Old Europa Café.
Despite its influence and importance, it remains an album that more people have heard of than have actually heard, and what I’ve come to realize is that this may be a good thing. Ain Soph were responsible for some moments of sepulchral lo-fi beauty before they took this turn. Kshatriya and the much sought-after Nekrophile release, Ars Regia, remain atmospheric and distinctive to this day. Aurora, by contrast, sounds like what happens when a group of people attempt karaoke without a machine. I’ll allow that it is still very distinctive. There is no chance that this is going to get mistaken for anything else, but while Aurora might be brave, it’s not good.
I give full credit to the label for an excellent new mastering job: the quality of the sound is exquisite, allowing the listener to hear in pristine clarity as the musicians plod through the musical accompaniment with the spirit of a battalion marching into war. Everything grinds along in its repetitive way, and it sounds a lot like the band were focused intently on hitting the right notes rather than allowing themselves to be swept up in the emotion of the music they were making.
That’s not to say that there aren’t elements to enjoy: the squealing feedback threaded through the background of ‘Io e te’ is a deliciously unexpected counterpoint to the otherwise old-fashioned song. The static noise and sharp flint strikes in ‘Colpo de grazia’ make the track three-dimensional and add a layer of grit to its mournful atmosphere. But is that enough?
The question of whether you are going to like Aurora or not rests largely on your feelings about the vocals. It’s not uncommon in the neofolk scene to feature male singers who have, shall we say, limited range. Folk music, after all, is the music of the people. It’s not meant to discriminate based on ability; it’s supposed to be simple enough that anyone can join in. I have some sympathy for that viewpoint, because sometimes the most exquisite, heartfelt renditions of songs are done by those who are truly feeling what they are singing, rather than by trained professionals. However, when the music sounds as contrived and heavy-handed as much of Aurora does, the vocals can’t seem honest and emotional.
The CD comes with a booklet of lyrics, both in their original languages and translated into English (where necessary). The translations are not perfect, but they are definitely good enough to convey the ideas and stories behind each of the songs. You can clearly see the themes intrinsic to so many later artists on display here, from the rejection of modern neoliberal democracy to doomed romantic love and nostalgic visions of an earlier era. While there are some excellent turns of phrase (‘The city is in me like a poem’), the lyrics suffer from the same prosaic issues as the music. They lack the symbolism of Death in June (who were doing this years before Aurora had ever been recorded), the fire of Sol Invictus, or the cleverness of later acts like Nový Svět or Ait! It’s nice to have the lyrics included, but it’s also a mixed blessing.
It pains me to dislike this album, because many artists who have been influenced by it are ones whom I either love or at least appreciate—Nový Svět, Ait!, Ô Paradis, Dernière Volonté, Der Blutharsch—but those acts all have something more to offer. Aurora is like listening to thumbnail sketches of tracks later perfected by more talented others. That may make it interesting, but it doesn’t make it enjoyable.
If you’re an avid fan of the Mediterranean-tinged cabaret / neofolk style, this may appeal to you. If you’re a collector, sure, buy this and admire its beautiful digipak. For the rest of us, however, it’s probably just better to acknowledge the album’s role in music history and move on to better things.
01) Tutti a casa!
03) Pistolet automatique
04) Uomini perduti
06) White Guard
07) Liberté ou mort
08) Légionnaire en Algiers
10) Le départ
11) Tempi duri
12) Gli amanti tristi
13) Io e te
14) Cuoro nero
15) Colpo di grazia