It seems that black metal’s resurgence is coming on strong and in new and different ways as of late. No longer are bands sticking with the usual fair of Dimmu Borgir inspired symphonic orchestrations, lightly frosted with devil or pseudo-devil worshiping lyrics. Now bands are focusing on more experimental musical elements like atmosphere (in terms of composition) while crafting songs about the environment (I’m thinking of Wolves in the Throne Room and Drudkh‘s newest output). Enter Ireland’s Altar of Plagues. They have melded the subtle atmospherics and stark production qualities of Scandinavia’s best with the ambiance of post-rock’s compositional prowess, and then threw in a little Khanate-esq, slowed-down wailing, with a dash of sludgy slop to reach the cockles of any heavy music lover’s heart, causing their first full length “White Tomb” to deliver a definitive statement for heavy music.
The band mixes together subtle yet stark waves of sound to setup the vocalist’s atonal wail and howl, layered over fast finger picking, flutters of minor keyboard sounds, and tastefully executed blast beats. Besides “Through the Collapse: Watchers Restrained,” every song clocks in at over the ten minute mark, and all the songs have passages that built towards cathartic explosion. “Earth: As a Womb” builds slowly and eerily and then basically erupts into metered chaos, recedes into melancholic ambience and then it does it again.
Track 2, “Earth: As Furnace,” uses a similar paradigm as it relies on slow shoe gaze to set the stage for the bestial crescendos that revert back to atmospherics, then to blast beats at whim. But the album’s most majestic and at the same time painful track, “Through the Collapse: Watchers Restrained,” uses dissonance to work the listener through gut wrenching vocal passages similar to Khanate at their most alienating. The album closes with the somewhat more sludgy sounding “Through the Collapse: The Gentian Truth,” which looks to the horizon in terms of forging a new sound that takes the best of Pelican, Cult of Luna, and ISIS and twists it into blackened goodness to end the disc.
When one contemplates Altar of Plague’s subject matter on White Tomb, the apocalyptic portraits of a world doomed to a desolate and un-stoppable end, it becomes easy to agree that the band’s next offering will build upon and eclipse White Tomb’s stunning, yet stark beauty.