It’s becoming increasingly difficult to not think of Sergio Chotsourian as a kind of figurehead representative of South American heavy. From his work over the course of two decades in Los Natas and Ararat to the just-getting-started Soldati, as well as his Sergio Ch. solo offerings, other offshoot projects and collaborations, and the continuing impact he’s had on artists around him with his label, South American Sludge Records, the Buenos Aires native has positioned himself at the fore of a crucial and vibrant underground through both his own creative output and his commitment to helping promote others in Argentina and the surrounding nations. As the label has come into focus over the last several years and stood behind an increasing number of releases, Chotsourian‘s craft seems to have become all the more prolific for having the reliable outlet.
In 2015, he made his Sergio Ch. solo debut with 1974 (review here), and Aurora follows that album and Soldati‘s first demo (discussed here) as a late-2016-issue sophomore outing on South American Sludge and Pirámide Records. Like its predecessor, Aurora finds a basis in demos that were posted online circa 2013 — for the title-track, which opens, and “El Herrero,” which immediately follows — but these have been rerecorded and mixed by Chotsourian (who also did the cover art) at his own Death Studios, built upon within themselves and added to other pieces to result in a six-song/53-minute full-length that’s still in no small part defined by its opener, which is presented this time around in two component pieces, each one starting a half of the album.
Granted, some of that defining aspect of “Aurora” and “Aurora II” might be due the fact that they are 19 and 15 minutes long, respectively. One is reminded of Ararat‘s 2012 album II (review here), which made use of the extended “Caballos” and “La Ira del Dragon (Uno)” to make such an impression with shorter inclusions surrounding. But the vision on Aurora is clearer in its structural intent and the aesthetic different, with Chotsourian joined only by Milagros Arrom on guitar and metallophone throughout, instead of playing as part of a full trio band. And the experimental vibe with which “Aurora” (18:55) and “Aurora II” (15:17) play out isn’t to be understated. 1974 had some undertones of drone but made its primary impact with more traditional folk-style songwriting; guitar, piano, vocals at its core.
“El Herrero” and “El Laud” work in a similar vein — the former punctuated by Arrom‘s metallophone — and each half of the record finds a more plugged-in, fuzzy and psychedelic finish in “La Heroina” and the instrumental “El Llano,” but even these feel far removed from Chotsourian‘s last LP. Really, it doesn’t even take getting as far as two minutes into “Aurora” for the shift in approach to be made clear, the title-track starting with a drone-march of a guitar line backed by deep-mixed organ, a fuzzier guitar tone emerging amid a threat of drums before a turn into the verse riff after four minutes in brings the first lyrics. It leaves little room for middle-ground impressions, by which I mean the listener will either be hypnotized or not. “Aurora” celebrates its nod and does not depart from it until about 17 minutes in, as the central guitar figure is overwhelmed by swirling noise and feedback (and actually that guitar part is still there, just buried). Chotsourian has toyed with drone before, but “Aurora” marks the first time he’s brought Earth-esque drone rock to such account. To his credit, he makes it his own.
Likewise “Aurora II,” the arrival of which serves to emphasize the mirrored structure of Aurora‘s two halves, each of which begins with a longer experimental piece (the two “Aurora” tracks) and follows first with an acoustic-based cut (“El Herrero” and “El Laud”) and then a more electrified one to finish (“El Laud” and “El Llano”). Vinyl would seem to be the intent, at very least what’s meant to be conveyed, but I’m not sure the album would fit on a single platter in its current incarnation, i.e., without some form of editing for a shorter runtime. Nonetheless, “Aurora II” complements the preceding opener as the pinnacle of Chotsourian‘s experimentalism, moving from a wistful initial guitar line and metallophone flourish — one is reminded of Hexvessel‘s “Sacred Marriage,” though that’s likely sonic coincidence — through forwards and backwards psychedelic noodling into a wash of consuming and ritualized drone.
Instrumental in its entirety, its chimes, surrounding keyboard lines and opaque but still worship-prone soundscaping spread out as they go, moving further and further away from the earlier “Aurora,” the guitar line that started “Aurora II” and really just about any form of physical reality. What “Aurora II” shares in common with “Aurora” is trance and structure. Just as the opener held to its central guitar figure, “Aurora II” — while definitely departing from it in its extended midsection — bookends with that same wistful line, which returns following a stop at around 12 and a half minutes in to carry to the finish. At that point it’s hard not to think of “El Laud” as a return to ground, and that might indeed be Chotsourian‘s purpose, but wherever they were placed in the tracklisting, there could be little doubt Aurora would be defined by its titular pieces. That said, both “El Laud” and the fuzzy reaches of “El Llano” offer plenty of spaciousness in their own right, the latter finding a place within a drone more cosmic than that of “Aurora II” but not completely separate from it in its layering.
As the guitar on “El Llano” clicks off for the last time, kind of suddenly, the core message of Aurora is underlined in a stylistic expansion for Chotsourian‘s solo material. That is to say, if one was expecting a straight-ahead follow-up to 1974, this sophomore effort will no doubt come as something of a surprise. Taken in context within his discography — particularly some of the breadth attained on the aforementioned second Ararat disc — it’s not wholly out of place, but there’s a purposeful distance that Aurora puts between itself and just about everything else Chotsourian has done to-date. That makes it much more difficult to predict where he might go next, but also allows this collection to satisfy on another level, both on its own and in terms of the Sergio Ch. catalog, which it would seem has only begun to establish the broadness of its scope.