|Review: Altar Of Plagues - White Tomb|
Label: Profound Lore Records
Year released: 2009
Genre: Black Metal
Review online: May 23, 2009
Reviewed by: Brett Buckle
The experiment of crossing post rock/metal with Black Metal has proven to be quite successful, and with bands like Fen, Amesoeurs, and Wolves in the Throne Room finding large and appreciative audiences we are about to hear a lot more of it. Altar of Plagues is one of the first out of the blocks with a full-length album, and with White Tomb they bring the most post-rock influenced offering to this new sub-genre thus far.
A high, dreamy keyboard and subdued guitar slowly ease you into White Tomb, enhanced with some swelling keyboards as the atmosphere builds, growing ever more urgent before a brief climactic pause that signals it is time for metal to begin. And begin it does! The first thing I noticed when the music started was the bass – it is freakin' huge! Rumbling underneath some pummeling drums and distant guitars it really drives the music forward. Do yourself a favour and put this album on a stereo with a mountain of subwoofer backing it up – your windows will fucking rattle like the four horsemen just thundered past as if late to the apocalypse! "Earth – As a Womb" gets the album off to a dream start, screaming along like a wider, more orchestral feeling Two Hunters-era Wolves in the Throne Room with that open, echoey chord style of riffing and urgent drumming driving it forward at speed. The track calms down a lot in the mid-section, acoustic guitars shifting into a long distorted section, displaying the swelling minor chord progressions that so mark the new so-called "post black" sound, very similar to the more somber metallic moments of Amesoeurs' self-titled as it slows to the end. It is a track full of great dynamic and melody that feels much shorter than its twelve minutes. "Earth – As a Furnace" follows and, as its title indicates, it really feels very much like a "part two of track one". It starts with an acoustic riff that feels very much like Oceanic or Panopticon-era Isis, a feeling that persists into the distortion until a very melodic section rises in, again sounding very much like Amesoeurs. "Earth – As a Furnace" is even more varied than its predecessor and sees the introduction of some truly twisted black vocals that sound very much like a fairy tale "wicked witch" only much cooler than that description makes them sound – you'll understand when you hear them. The lengthy atmospherics at the end of the track go on for perhaps long, wallowing a little too much in the post-atmospherics. The kick in the teeth of "Through the Collapse - Watchers Restrained" will bring you back to earth as it gets straight down the business – the transition between these two songs will no doubt absolutely kill live. This track also shows that Altar of Plagues have the ability to be truly original, bringing together their influences into a blend that hasn't really been done before, most notably in the sickly mid-section that sees those markedly evil witch vocals return to great effect over some hugely weighty and dissonant chords, the whole track swelling into earthshaking audio destruction. Album closer "Through the Collapse – Gentian Truth" is the "airiest" of the tracks and is reminiscent of Fen's The Malediction Fields both in style and sound with a long, drawn out "post-y" mid section, that builds to an incredible climax before delivering a very satisfying dénouement to the album as it drifts out into the post-apocalyptic waste lands from where it came.
White Tomb sounds very much like a marriage between Isis and Wolves in the Throne Room and is every bit as unique as that suggests, and though Altar of Plagues wear their influences on their sleeve the album is never derivative. This will spend some time locked in your CD player as its visceral riffing immediately captures your attention, while the subtleties of both the melodies and atmosphere slowly open up to repeat listens. The songwriting could stand to be a little more focused, especially when drifting in the more post rock influenced parts, and this will ultimately be the deciding factor on which side of the fence you fall to. If Two Hunters is your favourite WitTR album, and you're a fan of Fen's offerings then you can go and immediately buy this album without fear; everyone else will want to make sure before parting with the cash.
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