Friday, August 3, 2012

Album Retrospective: Alio Die - Aura Seminalis

Album Rating: A
Students of the Ambient genre must approach Alio Die’s discography as something of an epic pilgrimage. It’s vast: impossibly so; with releases spanning back to the early 90’s and four albums released in the first half of this year alone. He’s worked with some of the greats of the genre - the most defining of which being Robert Rich, with whom he released Fissures in 1997 - yet has also managed to produce consistently outstanding drone-ambient compositions by himself. To properly sort through and explore his works in their entirety would take months. The issue of his most powerful album is contentious, but Aura Seminalis, released in 2008, is arguably his most magical. Sitting at odds with the rest of his discography, which focuses on the mystery and wonder of nature and life, Aura Seminalis is a much more religious, desperate and moving affair: painting an image of a lonely man in an old, empty hall, surrounded by god.

That’s pretty ambiguous, right? But it sounds good, which is pretty much as close an explanation as you can give for Aura Seminalis. Split into two separate tracks, the first, titled “Sine Tempore” (or “Without Time”), centres around plenty of short, soft drones overlapping and blending into each other. While fairly minimal, it’s constantly changing nature keeps it busy as we hear little flickers of melodies pierce through the soundscape. Alio Die adds a fairly metallic ring to his foreground, and juxtaposed next to the flatter, deeper backdrop it creates a strong sense of space that, along with the echoes and EQ, feels as if it fills a Cathedral-sized void. “Sine Tempore” is completed as a perfectly frail vocal chant (or at least horns distorted to sound like voices) is heard amongst the unravelling of the drones around it. Comparatively solid in such a liquid environment, the sense of isolation and loss is palpable; and in its quiet way “Sine Tempore” becomes incredibly beautiful. “Part II” takes the track to a darker, more fearful edge, truly echoing the medieval-Christianity strain of religious fear yet oddly more peaceful as the vocals and drones begin to entwine into chords. The vocals take a more prominent role here, too, but wind down entirely for “Part III”, which sees the piece slide gently to standstill in a simple and deconstructed (and pure) manner.

The solely instrumental title track may not be as hard-hitting as “Sine Tempore”, but it fortifies itself with a wealth of subtle tweaks and shifts. Leading on from the less-structured “Part III”, it exhibits more of a classic, 70’s ambient approach while still carrying Alio Die’s masterful use of texture and depth. As opposed to the first track, however, “Aura Seminalis” is also rather withdrawn and contemplative: a piece less concerned with living the moment but more so reflecting it. As such the drones are more drawn out, with only gentle and quiet splatters of more solid, rasping tones on top to build up the mood. Despite this less urgent and head-strong approach, the track still manages to bleed the same kind of warm and sorrowful whimper as the first, although in a much more general and somewhat less focussed way.

Alio Die’s Aura Seminalis is an absolutely outstanding display of unique, emotional and finely crafted ambient music. With its heavily spiritual tones it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to liken the album to a full-on religious experience, and as it is the quality doesn’t sit too far from perfection. The obvious piety makes the album feel very old indeed, and as such it becomes quite timeless. A mainstay in his epic discography, and an album well-worth visiting for any soul willing to feel small in the presence of something truly glorious.

Official Site (Italian)

1. Sine Tempore Part 1
2. Sine Tempore Part 2
3. Sine Tempore Part 3
4. Aura Seminalis Part 1
5. Aura Seminalis Part 2

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