Sunday, October 23, 2011

Altar of Plagues- Mammal(2011)

Altar of Plagues- Mammal

A full disclaimer: I am not really all that familiar with the whole "Blackgaze" or "Hipster Black Metal" or whatever the fuck it is called. Weakling and Wolves In The Throne Room are the only acts connected to this scene I have ever listened to(and very much enjoyed), and beyond the whole Hunter Hunt-Hendrix debacle that was impossible to ignore as it exploded across the internet at speeds that make celebrity sex tapes jealous, I was largely unfamiliar with the players. But this whole review blog thing kind of forces you to open up your musical world a bit, so I thought I would dive into the scene with an album that has been getting a lot of buzz, Mammal, from Ireland based Altar of Plagues. I really had no idea what to expect going in.

Color me impressed... and confused. Confused because I don't hear any Black Metal here.

Mammal consists of four tracks, and all are finely crafted, musically adventurous mixes of Doom, Sludge and Math Rock. The guitars have an eerily distant and dissonant quality; in fact, all the instruments sound slightly away from the listener, creating a unique effect of distance without being too soft or sounding terrible. All of the instruments are also expertly played, with a nice attention to detail that is greatly appreciated. There are also some wonderful, and often times beautiful, ambient sounds and noises that add to a dark, foreboding atmosphere.

None of this praise equates to Black Metal however, and I continue to struggle with this: I just don't hear any fucking Black Metal here. Not in the guitar tone or the riffs. Not in the drumming style, nor in the song composition. And certainly not in the vocals, which are more akin to the Post-Sludge screams of acts like Isis than Varg or Atilla. In fact, when listening to Altar of Plagues, I hear far more Isis than Emperor, and much more Neurosis than Burzum. This does not detract from the album in any real way, but leads me to question whether Black Metal suddenly left me behind and evolved into something completely different from what I understood it to be.

Mammal is not perfect. The first song, "Neptune is Dead" drags on near the end, and the vocals never elicit the level of emotion of depth that they seem to be attempting. By far my favorite track "When The Sun Drowns in the Ocean," features several female vocalist singing in a languages I don't recognize, while the yells of vocalist Dave Condon are absent. And while Mammal is certainly impressive and inventive, not all of the various ideas mesh or gel the way the band intended and some fall rather flat.

My confusion will persist for now, as Mammal is both very good and yet devoid of any discernible Black Metal aspects. The sheer vitriolic hate that some in the Black Metal community have for bands of this ilk is quite hilarious and alarming, but from my time with this album, may in fact be severely misplaced onto a band not deserving of it as well. Perhaps Altar of Plagues claimed some affiliation with Black Metal in the past, or toured with Liturgy or something. Regardless, as an inventive progressive Metal record, Mammal has the goods.

Rating: 8/10

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