Altar Of Plagues
25 April 2011
by Tom Dare
When a debut album smacks you between the eyes and forces you to pay attention, there’s always the risk the follow up will not live up to it. It takes a fairly special band to build on what they have done before, to improve every single aspect of their music and develop stylistically into an even more distinctive beast. With their second full-length Mammal, Altar Of Plagues prove just how utterly astonishing they are.
By the time first album White Tomb was re-issued in the UK last year, it was fairly clear something rather wonderful was taking place. Yet even after that monumental traverse of misery, Mammal is shocking in both its brilliance and its sheer despondent bleakness. Their combination of ambience, noise and savage black metal is once again in force, but everything is ramped up.
The atmospherics are even more transcendent, the experimental aspects even more experimental and head-fucking, and the black metal even more nasty, visceral and without anything resembling hope. White Tomb may have had the occasional moment where the sun broke through the cloud, and even ended with the vague hint that redemption that may come with the dawn, but Mammal offers no such chance of recovery. This is less a journey through torment and despair that returns you to normality just before it consumes you, and more a descent into a black pit of finality and loss.
Watch a teaser to Mammal here:
It may sound like we’re all fucked and that the world is a monolith to failure and awfulness, but as the final slamming shut of the tomb door behind you rings out, the feel is that only by acknowledging the ghastliness can it be coped with. The tone of acceptance of this tragic fate that closes proceedings somehow makes it survivable. For all the crushing melancholy, there is a bizarre catharsis that has nothing to do with letting the listener off the woe-drenched hook and everything to do with throwing them so hard against the wall of depression that they break through it and manage to keep their feet.
From the icy burn of shoe-gazing riffage that opens the door to desolation, through the more clean-toned wanderings and noise that follow it, past the mournful singing and clattering of odd percussion and all the other myriad of bizarre surprises Altar Of Plagues throw at you right to the pitiless finale, every single moment slips seamlessly into the mosaic they have constructed. The wailing and gnashing of teeth and all the other globules of darkness that assault the ear compile to engineer a record of the utmost honesty, emotion and power.
When White Tomb arrived, it felt exciting, brilliant and fresh. And it was. Mammal builds on that in every respect. A more astounding wander through gloom it will be hard to find.
Sounds like: a depressed Wolves In The Throne Room experimenting
Top tracks: like White Tomb, it’s 4 tracks in 50 minutes. Listen to it all or don’t bother.
Altar Of Plagues – Mammal tracklisting:
Neptune Is Dead
Feather And Bone
When The Sun Drowns In The Ocean
All Life Converges To Some Center