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

Bastard Priest- Ghouls of Endless Night(2011)

Bastard Priest- Ghouls of Endless Night

Everything about Bastard Priest screams "credibility." The Entombed inspired logo, the perfectly blasphemous and anti-everything song titles, the horror-inspired cover art. The bands moniker? A slightly immature fuck you to Gods and The Man. Even the bands photos are appropriately black and white, grainy, and the band are decked in more scuzzy leather than a biker bar hooker. In an era of Death Metal hungry for a return to the late 80's, Bastard Priest can generate hype and cause uncontrollable salivating from sheer aesthetic alone. Not that the music diverges in any way from the look and feel of it: Bastard Priest are old school, extolling the virtues of buzz saw guitar tone and a time when blast beats were not a part of the formula. This is all an equation for mega-hype, and Ghouls of Endless Night(more of the damn aesthetic) was a wish-list topper for a large portion of the Death Metal community.

And if effort, attitude and style was enough to carry your record, than Bastard Priest would be the greatest Death Metal band on Earth, and Ghouls of Endless Night would be a once in a lifetime masterpiece for the ages. As it is, this is merely competent early Entombed fellatio with a few d-beats. Short and to the point, Ghouls of Endless Night waits for no man or beast. Or idea for that matter, as good riffs are either ditched in an effort to speed up the process or mercilessly hammered home to the point of diminishing returns, while weak, breathless and monotone vocals grunt their exhaustion over the tracks(and struggling to keep up with the songs). While sloppily hammering neckbeards in a mosh pit with 10 beers in your gut would make any of this a moot point, in the wrong setting(ie, not doing what I just described), Ghouls of Endless Night feels like well tread territory.

Which is not to say that this album is a complete waste of time. At times, like on the self titled track or "Last Scream," the old phrase "when it works, it works" comes to mind. Ghouls of Endless Night is also short and filthy, with the standard production all the kids love today: no triggers, no pitch-shifters, no fluff. And I have no doubts that Bastard Priest live is a whirlwind of destruction and beer unlike any other. But since my only experience with Ghouls of Endless Night is sitting in my home or heading to work, the feel of sweat and cheap domestics elude me.

It should be noted that the level of enjoyment one would get from Ghouls of Endless Night hinges largely on how much you love Swedish Death Metal. If Left Hand Path, Like an Everflowing Stream and Into Your Grave are your top 3 favorite Death Metal albums, in any order, than stop reading this now and purchase Ghouls of Endless Night right away. My bloviating on the band will mean jack shit, and my complaints will fall on deaf ears. For the rest, Ghouls of Endless Night is not without redeemable qualities and fails not from a lack of effort, but from a lack of ideas. And with bands like Trap Them playing a similar sound, only with far more brutality, creativity and adventure, Bastard Priest remains the cool kid that is only cool because he copies the other cool kids. Who are not so cool anymore.

Rating: 6.5/10