Perceptive and succinct, Aro Ora‘s The Twelfth Hour scrutinises humankind and the environment that shapes us.

Release date: March 22, 2024 | Independent | Facebook | Instagram | Website

New year, new me, huh? Not for me, babes. I spent all of January digging around in my past – my parents are moving out of my childhood home, so they gave me a bunch of boxes full of old stuff to sort through and decide what I wanted to keep and what could be donated or thrown out. I found old clothes (some of which are still cool, or in a few cases, cool again), various toys, jewellery, a half-decade old pack of cigarettes, and a worryingly large number of notebooks and loose pages covered in poems, unsent letters, half-finished stories, sometimes just a few scattered phrases. Throughout high school, I wrote almost compulsively, and in reading my scribblings I regained an insight into what was undoubtedly one of the darkest and most turbulent times in my life. The teenage brain is truly a fascinating and terrifying place.

Anyway, as I was going through this record of my depression-tortured adolescence, I was forcibly reminded of many things that shaped me – people, places, specific situations, and music. Around age 14, I discovered metal and fell into something of an obsession. Metal is still a massive force in my life, so I’m not embarrassed by the writing I found relating to it. In fact, I was rather touched by how passionately I wrote – how new and amazing all of it was. My writing took me back in time to an era when jet-black side-fringes, neon highlights, skinny jeans, snakebites, and eyeliner were the epitome of edgy coolness, a time when metal was saturated with clean, whiny choruses, annoyingly catchy breakdowns, and lyrics so unabashedly rooted in teenage angst that, as a depressed loner, you couldn’t help but feel you were understood.

Somehow, Aro Ora’s The Twelfth Hour seems like a complete encompassment of the early 2010’s I remember. It’s a bit -core-y, with its clean choruses and chugging breakdowns, but it’s so much more sophisticated than 14-year-old me would ever have dared to imagine. The lyrics, too, don’t revolve around teenage heartbreak, but delve much deeper into the human psyche. And yet, The Twelfth Hour doesn’t really move me. While it’s musically refined and lyrically adept, something about it fails to draw me in. Perhaps I’ve kind of outgrown the part of my life rooted in that style of music, but I don’t think that’s it – I couldn’t really tell you. And just because I don’t have an intense emotional response to the album doesn’t mean I think it’s bad, by any means! I enjoy all of the songs – without the three bonus tracks, the album is concise, at 28 minutes verging on sinfully short, and pretty damn powerful.

Something that intrigued me about Aro Ora from the beginning is their ties to New Zealand, where I live. Their name itself comes from Māori, New Zealand’s indigenous language, and may translate to something like ‘notice life’. Their 2019 album is called Wairua, which is a Māori word commonly used by English-speaking kiwis as well, and means spirit or soul. The band’s primary focus is on humanity and the influence of the environment on humankind – similar, in this regard, to their fellow Frenchmen Gojira. They approach the cycle of the universe with a kind of reverent wonder without ever dipping into cheesy psychedelia or hippie flower power narratives.

“In Sheer Luck Lays No Hazard” is one of the highlights of The Twelfth Hour for me – it’s kind of modern prog, with choruses that vaguely remind me of Interloper, Gojira-esque rhythmic patterns, and the occasional hint of Meshuggah. Something about this song in particular gets me; it felt familiar to me the first time I heard it. Perhaps it was the sweetness of its clean intro, the Cloudkicker-style opening riff, or something in its almost anthemic chorus melody that I latched onto immediately. Everything that follows – the driving rhythms, the subtle lead lines, the open stacked chords of the chorus – feels like a natural progression while not being at all predictable or boring. The twin breakdowns that end the song return me to the song’s nostalgic opening, but where the intro is delicate and somehow reminds me of my grandparents, the ending transports me back to sneaking into deathcore shows at age 15; the smell of stale beer and teenage sweat and secondhand smoke.

Another track that immediately stole my heart is “Anger and Love”. Again, I almost felt like I’d heard it before, which of course is impossible. Something about its chorus is eerily familiar to me – I knew where I wanted the melody to go, and that’s exactly where it went. Between first hearing The Twelfth Hour and actually sitting down to read this review, I had a bit of shit go down in my life that left me feeling both anger and love in almost equal measures. As always with me, love ultimately won. As a result though, I felt I could relate to this track more (at least lyrically) than I had initially thought. In general, I felt like The Twelfth Hour became more and more relevant the more time passed and the more time I spent with it. Now it feels almost like a high school friend, who you don’t have much in common with anymore, but still share memories and experiences with.

While I enjoy The Twelfth Hour, I can’t help feeling that it’s incomplete. I don’t mind that it’s so short – I often feel bands tend to get a bit too indulgent, and AO certainly don’t do that. I just always find myself surprised when the album ends, as if there’s more to say, as if my breath is caught in my throat. I wonder if it’s because I don’t feel the album has a centrepiece; there’s no song that feels like the album’s pinnacle. Its longest track, “Equal In The Sequel”, is probably also the song that I find the least memorable. It almost feels like The Twelfth Hour is a book missing its climactic chapter – the story still makes enough sense to follow, but just isn’t complete. Then again, you may disagree entirely; perhaps I’ve missed the point here. Either way, The Twelfth Hour is worth a listen, even just for the incredibly meaty production. See what you reckon!

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