LUNAR AURORA, Of Stargates and Bloodstained Celestial Spheres  (1999, Kettenhund)

The skull:
Never has an album with such a great title been sullied by such a silly album cover. If the color is supposed to look “bloodstained,” they failed. It’s more blood orange stained. And the skull? His teeth are redneck, his eyeballs black olives, and his look says “Oh my, you caught me doing naughty things to myself in the photo booth!!!” in a squeaky Mr. Bill voice.

The music:
Lunar Aurora is a highly regarded German band, and in 2012, after nine full-lengths, they called it quits. This is their third album. The basic description of Lunar Aurora could be “well-recorded epic and melancholy black metal,” but then we’ve heard that one before, and even this is too simplistic a definition. Their music has a swirling, hypnotic quality, and it doesn’t always take lightspeed tempos to achieve this — they work in moderately slow to medium paces, for the most part, yet their sense of invention and world-building keeps the songs from ever becoming dull. The technical level is high but never sinks down into arid complexity — they know how to channel their talents to create effective and affecting compositions. There’s a healthy degree of textural variety here, too, as heard on “Blutbaum” and instrumental track “Moorleiche.” As for the oboe solo — yes, oboe solo — in “Die Quelle im Wald,” it works much better in practice than in theory. This is how I always wished Summoning’s more traditional black metal passages sounded but didn’t. Of Stargates… is comprised of huge, escapist, captivating material, and the whole is satisfyingly overwhelming. I didn’t give the band much time over the years, but am sitting here feeling like I missed out on something special. I’ve already checked out more of their material, and their final album, Hoagascht, is pretty incredible. I assume I’m not the only one who missed out on these guys first time around. We’ve got some catching up to do!
— Friar Wagner