In case ‘Starfish’ and ‘Gold Afternoon Fix’ didn’t carry enough of a dreamy, psychedelic, otherworldly vibe, the Church made sure to apply the necessary remedy for that on 1992’s ‘Priest=Aura’. It’s difficult to call this a rock album, as the Church seem to have had completed their transition away from rock n’ roll altogether with this record. It’s been noted over the years that the band’s leader, Steve Kilbey, was into heroin throughout the ’90s. This is not an insignificant soundbite within the context of this particular record. If there was ever a record that sounded as if it owed its very existence to the usage of heroin, this is that record. For Kilbey, it was a creative tool. He’s notable for having a view of the drug that is less than conventional in the eyes of the general public. Regardless, its impact on this record is evident.
The opening track on the record is “Aura”, a seven-minute ditty seeping in the sort of mysticism and spiritual nature that the band had become famous for over the past few preceding records. The following two tracks, “Ripple” and “Paradox” feel very similar in tone to this opening track. Thematically, “Ripple” is arguably the peak work of the Church’s mystical side while “Paradox” feels like an ode to the heroin use that was prevalent in Kilbey’s life at this time period. The rich, albeit gloomy textures of this record help to present a subject matter that isn’t of this world. In fact, it isn’t until “Feel” that the band treat the listener to a track that is somewhat upbeat (even this track is far from being traditionally upbeat). It should be noted, though, that the material present on this record isn’t purposely gloomy. The subject matter is often apparently motiveless. The elements of this record that give it the most character are Kilbey’s impassioned delivery and the rest of the band’s appropriate renderings of their own musical arrangements. Without this, much of the record’s lyrics would read as mystical poetry; omnipresent and without judgment one way or the other. The conviction belongs to Kilbey, who is utterly and passionately enveloped in the world that this record exists in. One other highlight on the record is “The Disillusionist”, telling the story of a mystical figure with such acute vision and lyrical imagery as only to persuade the listener once again the humor the vision of the band.
What this record represents is the culmination of everything that the band ever wanted to be. Kilbey has said with great assurance that he views this as the band’s greatest record. What is almost certainly true about this record is that it is the greatest record at portraying everything that the band had ever hoped to be remembered for. This record maintains a highly ambitious vision throughout its full duration and, most importantly, is capable of keeping itself on the right path and not straying off into the vast fields of confusion which often exist around projects like this one. Whether or not this is the Church’s best record is debatable (although probable), but what’s more important is that it is the record the best presents the band executing all of the bits and pieces of their repertoire that has always made them a highly unique musical unit. In that spirit and in the spirit that there are relatively few other records that truly sound like this (of which none are better), there is practically nothing negative one could say about this record.