Alta is the debut full-length released from progressive black metal band Acolyte. Their sound is slightly challenging to put a finger on; their primary influences are clearly extreme, blackened metal bands like Deathspell Omega, Enslaved, and even French black metal experimenters Blut Aus Nord, but the sound they produce has a groove-based, classic heavy metal simplicity that belies their more progressive interests.
Black metal forms the base of Acolyte‘s sound, but it does not solely dominate their aesthetic. With the shifting, nebulous, almost ambient guitar tones, they bring an unexpected delicacy. The pacing, however, is mid-tempo death metal to the core, especially during moments when the grooves are particularly deep. While they identify themselves with the extreme metal scene in the UK, their sound in more cerebral and textural than that label might indicate.
Alta is not composed entirely of new material; all three of the tracks from their 2010 EP Leng, are included here: “Sunrise,” “The Ashenground,” and the EP’s title track. This makes the album a little unbalanced; the three oldest tracks are also some of the strongest, especially the nine-minute epic “Leng” which seethes and writhes with an unholy, hostile energy. “Sunrise” also has a great balance of delicacy and power.
Closing track “Epistle” is unquestionably the strongest. An eleven and a half minute monster, is has a strange, sinuous strength. Atmospheric and oddly introspective, Acolyte have given themselves the most room to explore and spread out with this track, and they have done an excellent job filling that vaulted space. The rest of the newest tracks are slightly paler, a little less muscular and monolithic than the rest. There are always strong elements, like the huge riffs on “The Nameless Expanse,” but generally speaking it is their older material that shines the brightest.
Despite this minor inconsistency, Alta is a strong debut. The song writing is creative, there are unquestionably some extremely hooky choruses, and there are moments when the tracks crescendo and then shatter, such as the breakdown in “Leng,” that are positively shiver-inducing. The album gets an additional boost from the excellent production, courtesy of Tom Dring (Electric Wizard, Dragged Into Sunlight). Dring knows exactly when to scuff-up a too-shiny guitar passage, or when to place a moment of delicacy against vocalist J.T.’s howling rasp. Acolyte are a promising young band in a fertile scene, proving with Alta that they’re an emerging band to watch.