Inspired by Greek mythology and religion, AURORA dismisses the idea that Gods can only be defined as all-knowing and perfectly sculptured archetypes that can’t be physically felt, and to experience their presence you have to bow down in worship. Instead Gods can be aesthetically and mentally imperfect. They can be impure. In fact you can be your own God within. With this in mind Aurora Aksnes idiosyncratic motivational spirit encourages self-importance, freedom, self-praise, living in your own skin and the unashamed power of love. Moving the focus from ecological and environmental issues (A Different Kind of Human Step 2) to inward healing. On the Norwegian’s third studio album The Gods We Can Touch – which was recorded in a a small 400-year-old castle in Norway – we thankfully still get to feast our ears on her ethereal, remedial charm and tribal mother nature aura but it’s an album that avoids repetition by accompanying her vocal instrument with her most playful eclectic mix of rhythms and stylistic music changes to date. There’s a lot of Latin and Lebanese influence this time, as well as synth-pop (‘A Temporary High’ is reminiscent of tracks from The Weeknd’s After Hours), cinematic strings and some arena rock. Like the conventions she attempting to smash, it’s musically unrestricted.
AURORA’s new album begins with a humming Clannad-like interlude entitled “The Forbidden Fruits of Eden”. In the Bible’s Book of Genesis, it promotes the idea that the Garden of Eden is a test of temptation and if one fails that test – as in the case of Eve eating a prohibited apple – dark consequences will prevail. A place of paradise becomes infected with demonic immorality. Instead of lamenting at Eve’s peckish decision that supposedly began a domino effect of sinfulness, she applauds the world’s first woman’s choice. It’s a symbol of free-thinking and chain-breaking. ‘Heathens’ is a tribute to Eve. The track interplays with contrasts; musically it juxtaposes soothing traditional mandolin with a chunky modern electropop production, while lyrically it shows the disparity between critical Christian thinking and liberalism. “We fell from sky with grace” with “Landed in her soft and warm embrace”. “Stealing from the trees of Eden” with “Living in the arms of freedom”.
‘Cure for Me’ is unorthodox for AURORA. Less spiritual and just all out fun. The musician came out as bi-sexual in 2021 and this audaciously flamenco-flavoured pop song points a finger at societies that promote conversion therapy for non-heterosexual people. This comes back to the idea of breaking free from the belief that the one way of being is taught by Gods. “Run from the liars, the fuel on the fire. I know I created myself. I know I can’t fight the sad days and bad nights. But I never asked for your help.” This anger is felt more powerfully on ‘Blood In The Wine’, the most breathtaking track on The Gods We Can Touch. It’s a marching call-to-arms anthem for the oppressed. It uses the epic church bells of Woodkid, blending the hard crust of Arena rock, with a mysterious allure of Hispanic and Arabic ambience (a kin to Shakira’s ‘Empire’) to entice an army of followers – taken on the personification of Dionysus, a God of wine and insanity, whose unusual dancing persuaded his followers to flee from fear and strict regimes. Battling against faith and other forms of judgement. “Come and feel the love, like a sinner. Shout it louder. Shout it for the ones who could never say. ‘I won’t feel ashamed, mothеr’ Can you break the chains off her? Shout it loudеr, not a sinner, she’s a lover.”
‘Giving Into Love’, ‘Artemis’ and ‘Exist For Love’ also take inspiration from Greek Gods and what they teach us about ourselves. Prometheus created humanity from clay by stealing fire from his other godly companions and ‘Giving Into Love’ speaks about how society judges its inhabitants by their outer shell rather than the fire which originally birthed us. “If I’ll be somebody, I’ll never let my skin decide it for me.” ‘Armetis’ is a slow elegant tango – one of many tracks that recall the atmosphere of Belgian-Egyptian singer Tamino – featuring Per Arne Glorivgen, one of the world’s leading Bandoneon performers (a South American concertina). Artemis is the Goddess of chastity and hunting and this is one example of AURORA accolading a powerful female figure. “The gods have made us a virgin hunter. Who in the storm becomes stillness/ What will you do when she takes off her clothes? Beg for her body or touch your soul. When you’re alone dreaming of her you sigh.” Which is also the case on string-swaying ballad ‘Exist for Love’, honouring Aphrodite, the goddess of love, but it was also written as an anthem to help people through the Covid pandemic.
The Gods We Can Touch ends peacefully with a Fleet-Foxes-reminiscent folk lullaby called ‘A Little Place Called The Moon’. AURORA gives listeners a serenading invitation to join her on Earth’s only natural satellite, where a “dream is about bloom”. With the album’s convincing pro-Eve messages, it would easy to give into this alluring temptation. Perhaps we can give the lonely old man shown on the moon in the AURORA-soundtracked John Lewis advert some much needed company.