Altar of Plagues
10 May 2010
by Tom Dare
First released over a year ago, Altar of Plagues‘ White Tomb attracted sufficient attention on Profound Lore Records that Candlelight decided to re-release it. Anyone who picked up one of the original pressings knows exactly why – Altar Of Plagues released probably the best metal record you didn’t hear last year.
Ireland may not be particularly renowned for black metal, but Altar Of Plagues may change all that. Their variant of ambient BM raises obvious comparisons with Wolves In The Throne Room, although there are enough post-metal elements floating around to give an occasional reminder of Nachtmystium. On top of this it’s drastically more ambient – there is far less overt black metal and more noise, and all told White Tomb provides a more abstract experience. If that’s a tad obscure for you, perhaps the best description is a cross between Beherit and Massive Attack – although none of this really does the band justice.
White Tomb could almost be described as a drama in two acts, each act containing two scenes. The fifty minute playing time is spread across two pairs of tracks. At the start of act I, ‘Earth’, the ambient noise evokes images of an empty countryside around you, and the feeling of being lost or abandoned. When the more obvious black and post-black metal parts enter, it is like being caught in the beginning of a storm, and running to seek shelter. Moving into clearer post-rock areas feels safe, as if sheltered from the storm in a dark forest with the canopy protecting you from the elements, before the heaviness and distortion comes back suggesting at a sinister discovery beneath the boughs. The album continues in this vein, painting a picture with music and drawing you along with its narrative before dumping you safe back at home at the end, safe but disturbed by what has just occurred, relieved it is all over but with the darker part of your psyche yearning to do it all again.
Above and beyond the inevitable descent into arty interpretive twaddle that beard-stroking musos cannot help but express in reviews of records like this, what comes across is the sheer quality of the elements on display. The riffs are top-draw, capable of both bleak post-rock warmth and black metal frostiness, the vocal shrieks are imploring and heartfelt and the ambient noise as euphoric and transcendent as you could ever wish. While neither simple nor accessible, the quality comes across on early listens before the narrative progression takes hold on later repeats. The sheer strength and breadth of emotions White Tomb puts you through is breathtaking, and by the time you reach the end of act II (‘Through The Collapse’) you are a little wrung-out, and in a state of post-orgasmic euphoria.
Watch Alter Of Plagues live in Portugal:
Although long by even the standards of Enslaved at their most expansive, none of the tracks even come close to dragging. There is simply too much going on and it is too powerful – you become intensely involved in the near-hypnotic vastness of the music. Able to horrify and comfort, and to anguish and pleasure, the sumptuous feast Altar Of Plagues served up a year ago has not grown stale with the passing of time. If anything, after months of repeated plays, it sounds even stronger.
Sounds like: Wolves In The Throne Room, Nachtmystium, Beherit
Top tracks: It’s fifty minutes spread across four tracks – you either listen to all four or might as well not bother.
Altar Of Plagues- White Tomb tracklisting:
I- As A Womb
II- As A Furnace
Through The Collapse:
I- Watchers Restrained
II- Gentian Truth