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PRIEST = AURA

The Church

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maani
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Founding Moderator
5 stars [Eighth in a series] With "Priest=Aura" - The Church's second "breakthrough" album - the band has unequivocally "arrived" as a progressive band to be reckoned with, exactly 10 years after their debut. Gone is any pretension of "hit-making," or even a "standard" approach. They have fully accepted who they are (and who their influences are), and have shaped and molded their sound into something mature, expansive, compelling and uncompromisingly creative. They have also mastered - truly mastered - the recording studio, taking full advantage of what can be done. (Needless to say, this album should be listened to with headphones.) In these regards, this album and its follow-up ("Sometime Anywhere") are their "Sgt. Pepper" and "Magical Mystery Tour," and belong in any collection of truly great prog-rock. / Beginning with the Moodies-like chords and expansive reverbed atmosphere at the opening of "Aura," you know that something different and wonderful has happened to the band. Kilbey then delivers a tour-de-force tale (in his now-trademark talk-singing style) of the power of love over hate, undergirded by a masterful arrangement full of solid keyboards, minimalist guitars, and almost impossibly lush atmospheres, all building to an outro that Floyd would be proud to claim as their own. "Ripple" has the band in superb form: solid beat, great guitar work, a truly haunting key change between verse and chorus, a wonderful instrumental break, another great outro, and another great "tale" from Kilbey. "Paradox" takes us into "dream" territory, with excellent interplay between guitars and keyboards, and hypnotic double vocals. "Lustre" is the "new" Church at its finest and most original, with a fantastic arrangement full of exciting key and texture changes, and yet another great "story" from Kilbey. "Swan Lake" is the first of three "mini-tunes" on the album (all under 2.5 minutes). Sardonically mocking, it is a beautifully concise waltz-time composition. "Feel" has a U2 feel, complete with a hopelessly infectious beat and Edge-like guitar riff, but filtered through the band's unique sensibilities. "Mistress" is a true Church original, clearly marking the band's unique brand of storytelling, arrangement and texture. "Kings" is another U2-ish song, with another Edge-inspired guitar riff and another infectious beat, along with another great Kilbey song-poem, again all filtered through the band's unique sensibilities. "Dome" is one of Kilbey's most poignant song-poems, underpinned by a deceptively simple arrangement. "Witch Hunt" is the second waltz-time "mini-tune," this time a humorous ditty about the dangers of helping people. "The Illusionist" is the story of a carnival-based pseudo-magician, with an extraordinary rhyming lyric supported by another deceptively simple arrangement (sort of like Dylan meets Floyd). "Old Flame" is the final "mini-tune," this one a gorgeous, bittersweet double-guitar piece. "Chaos" is an extended composition with the band's most aggressive performance thus far, including a neat beat (dig that subtle cabasa in the verses!), a Fripp-ish guitar figure, and a length Crimzoid instrumental section. "Film" closes the album with another great Church instrumental, this time an appropriately-titled composition that might have served well on a film score. / "Priest=Aura" is not simply a perfect album (no bad, or even "lesser," songs), but one on which not a single note or idea is out of place. From this point forward, The Church would produce only top-quality progressive albums full of creative, compelling and often exciting music.

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Send comments to maani (BETA) | Report this review (#16)
Posted Wednesday, February 18, 2004 | Review Permalink
hdfisch
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Edited 10/4/2005!

"Priest=Aura" sounds, at least for me, quite different from the previous albums and I would claim that this was their best one up to that moment. After the quite disappointing "Gold Afternoon Fix" it was definitively a big step forward. The sound is quite dark and in fact quite similar to gothic rock but there are not that much jangling guitars dominating as in previous albums.

It's a rather good album with atmospheric songs that are nice to listen and it sounds a bit in the vein of The Cure (around "Disintegration" album), especially the last song "Film" which could have come easily from there. Most of the songs remind me either to this band or maybe New Model Army. The only difference to those bands is that THE CHURCH are using discreet atmospheric keyboards in their music but overall guitar playing in New Wave style is dominating. Best song for me is the epic "Chaos" with its scary synthesizer sounds and slightly weird guitar play. The rest of the songs are all very nice but without any of them being outstanding. Good for 3 stars I would say!

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Send comments to hdfisch (BETA) | Report this review (#18)
Posted Saturday, February 05, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars In a another review I mentioned that The Church reached their artistical top twice (which doesn't mean most of their overall work is quite worth it). The second time was with this album, and from my point of view this one was the best album they have released to date. The self confidence, maturity and clear ideas put into this album are quite remarkable and quite hard to surpass (although they have been close in other albums, specially in the next one).

The set of songs of this album is quite unique and magnificent, one by one. "Aura" is along with "Myrrh" one their best intro songs, introducing a truly epic and fantastic story like only Kilbey can do himself. "Ripple" has one the best guitar riffs I've ever listened and it is among my favourites. "Paradox" is one the first of their songs that could be called 'hypnotic' and 'mesmerizing', all of this in a good way ("Sometime Anywhere" is full of songs like this one), "Lustre" starts with a low guitar arrangement and continues with a drum set and then becomes like a U2 tribute (it is not the only reference to U2 here, by the way). "Swan Lake" is another enchanting soft song like many of the shown here. "Feel" is the most radio-friendly song in an album which is not radio-friendly at all (again U2 sound here). "Mistress" is another fantastic piece of Kilbey's songwriting. "Kings" is the most U2- ish song here (in fact it is like The Edge plays the guitar here ;) ). "Dome" is a Church's classic, with another excellent guitar riff. "Witch Hunt" and "The Disillusionist" are two short, curious and kind of anacronic pieces."Old Flame" is a smooth, soft and precious ballad, continuing with the relaxing atmosphere of the album. "Chaos" serves its name well, it is the weirdest song of the album and probably a kind of introduction to their latter and darkest work, "Film" is the instrumental goodbye for the album, with another epic touch as happened with the intro song.

Summing up, this is the 'masterpiece' that The Church were looking for and couldn't find and sets an starting point to another different musical era for this band (probably the best one.

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Send comments to shyman (BETA) | Report this review (#52733)
Posted Saturday, October 22, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars First, I must elaborate on how I came to find The Church, and how over 35 years of music buying, they are one of the most endearing bands to me. I first came across them in a review of "Priest=Aura" by the local rock critic in the Erie(PA) Daily News. He gave the CD high marks, which prompted me to give it a listen at my favorite music store. I was not blown away by what I heard - at first - but something about the arrangements and the vocal delivery (which is quite unique in rock circles) by Steven Kilbey made me purchase the CD on the notion it would grow on me. For the most part, it sat seldom-listened to on my CD shelf. Only once in awhile in 1992 did I pull this CD out and listen to it.

Then in 1994 came the release of "Somewhere Anywhere". I piced it up and was stunned at how different it was from P=A. This one grabbed me by the throat, and I was immediately hooked. I then proceeded to buy "Starfish" (most Church fans' favorite, and their most commercial release to date), "Gold Afternoon Fix", "Heyday" and "Remote Luxury". As a new Church fan, I was engrossed in their sound and songwriting.

After this much background, the process by which The Church arrived at where they were when they recorded "Priest=Aura" became much clearer. They had essentially started out in the New Wave scene, but transformed as the genre ran its course and The Church found no place in the mainstream of radio music. Thank God for that!

This CD, as others have pointed out, is pivotal in the lifespan of this band. They have re-invented themselves at least 3 times in the 25 years of their existence, and this is a cornerstone of metamorphosis for them. There is something of a "goth" sound to the tracks on this album, and a stark beauty as well. One of the most brilliant short songs in my memory is here, the 1:37 long "Old Flame". This is one of the most haunting short songs I have ever heard, and it is nothing short of a masterpiece. It also must be a band favorite, as I've seen them perform it live along with the most popular songs of their career among their fans.

I have tried to pass The Church along to friends who enjoy progressive rock, as well as other genres. It seems the band is one in which the listener "gets it", or they don't. It is extremely hard to define, but the music is about a passion and a vibe so sublime that the majority of listeners never get "hooked". This band is all about chemistry and alchemy. One has to have an appreciation for both to get the sum experience of what The Church lay down in the studio. But once you get it, there's no letting go.

Therefore, The Church to this day defy categorization. Marillion is another band that fights labels tooth and nail, but often loses, which is a moot point, as most people have made up their minds who is what type of music, while many (most?) don't care about labels. I'm one of the latter. And The Church clearly play to their own whims and write to their own content and no one else's. Their fans wouldn't have them any other way.

Buy this CD if you've never heard it, but don't stop here. There are many more treasures out there in the archives.

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Send comments to beebs (BETA) | Report this review (#130713)
Posted Sunday, July 29, 2007 | Review Permalink
ZowieZiggy
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Here we go for what is considered as the highlight in "The Church" career. It was the occasion for me to get acquainted with an old "friend" since Jay Dee Daugherty who is the drummer of "The Patti Smith Group" is sitting behind the drum kit. for this release.

As soon as "Aura" starts, the feeling is rather positive. The oppressive beat (great bass work) reminds me of some Roxy songs ("Manifesto" for sure). Same decadent atmosphere which I like quite a bunch. Even if vocals are quite monochord, they fit perfectly with the global mood of this excellent opener.

The same good experience is prolonged with "Ripple" which conveys the same and gloomy approach. A dark, sombre universe is at reach?I already have mentioned the huge influence of the great "Echo & The Bunnymen" on the music of "The Church" (on "Starfish" for instance). This is again very much noticeable on "Priest=Aura". Just have a listen to the fine "Lustre" to be convinced.

The melancholic tone and some sadness that can be felt throughout this work can be at times a bit "too much". The short "Swan Lake" doesn't bring a lot of fun for sure! Some more dynamics could have been implemented to break this general and oppressive feeling.

And the more the albums develops, the more the feeling of too much of the same prevails ("Kings", "Dome"). Under these circumstances, some cut would have been welcome to avoid some boredom being installed during these sixty-five minutes (fifty would have been enough as far as I'm concerned).

The first four songs were promising and the last couple are again attractive, but the core middle part is at times dull.

As I have said, towards the end of this album, a song like "Chaos" saves the day: a great rock tune with a very strong rhythmic and finally some punch. The Bunnymen are again sitting next door. And I like it.

Three stars for this good album. To be complete, I would say that the prog feel is only related?

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Send comments to ZowieZiggy (BETA) | Report this review (#240363)
Posted Sunday, September 20, 2009 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars 4.5 stars. Steve Kilby the bass / vocalist for THE CHURCH was (as he says) in the "honeymoon stage" of his opium addiction when writing and recording this album. He pretty much dreamed up the lyrics and sound of this album while in an opium haze. He wrote the lyrics in a trance-like state. He would later pay dearly for this addiction. Steve says he did everything he had always wanted to do on this album. Steve Kilby is one of the few people on this planet that I would pay to hear give a speech. He's one of the great characters in music. Okay let's get back to "Priest=Aura". The disconnected vocals, the atmosphere, the clear and perfect sound, the melancholy and darkness it all adds up to this being the best album THE CHURCH have ever made.There were no attempts at hit songs or bowing to the wants of the record label.They made the album they wanted to make. End of story.This is one of those albums that is difficult to describe because I can't make you feel the emotion I feel at times or hear the depth of the cavernous sounds all around me.

"Aura" is a top five tune for me. I love the sound when it kicks in with vocals before a minute. Nice bass here too.The beat stops 6 1/2 minutes in as the atmosphere takes over and sounds cry out. "Ripple" is another top five. Jangly guitars as vocals join in then it kicks in just before a minute. Guitar only before 4 1/2 minutes then it kicks back in instrumentally to the end. A powerful sound here. "Paradox" gets fuller with vocals quickly. Some backing vocals in this one. "Lustre" opens with bass and atmosphere as the guitar and drums join in, then vocals and a fuller sound follows. Atmosphere ends it. Nice. "Swan Lake" is a short tune with a relaxing beat and vocals. "Feel" sounds really good especially the bass and drums. "Mistress" is a top five.There's an emotion I feel while listening to this amazing tune.The focus is on the vocals. "Kings" opens with jangly guitars as reserved vocals come in. Atmosphere 2 1/2 minutes in then back to the vocals and earlier sound. Excellent track.

"Dome" has a beat with guitar as the vocals join in. Catchy stuff. "Witch Hunt" is all about the rhythm and lyrics. "The Disillusionist" builds quickly as vocals arrive. Dual vocals on the chorus and this has a catchy beat as well. "Old Flame" is dreamy with vocals. "Chaos" is a top five too.The longest track at 9 1/2 minutes. Atmosphere as chunky bass joins in.The guitar comes in as it builds.Vocals join in as the guitar cries out. Amazing sound that erupts 4 1/2 minutes in then rebuilds. A calm with atmosphere 7 1/2 minutes in to end it. "Film" is the final top five for me. Such a rich sound here and it turns heavier after 1 1/2 minutes then settles back as contrasts continue. A calm with atmosphere after 3 minutes to end it.

There is a spiritual componet to this album that can't be ignored. Not surprising perhaps considering the band's name and the title of this record. If going to church was as much of an experience as listening to this album I might actually go.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#429540)
Posted Friday, April 08, 2011 | Review Permalink

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