Altar of Plagues // Mammal
Rating: 2.5/5.0 —Minimal
Label: Candlelight Records (EU) | Profound Lore (US)
Websites: altarofplagues.com/ myspace.com/altarofplagues
Release Dates: EU: 2011.04.25 | US: 05.03.2011

I respect when a band creates something unique, challenging and hard for the listener to initially absorb. However, I only respect it when there’s a real payoff once the listener DOES absorb it. I think most readers can recall some album in their past that proved difficult to grasp but all of a sudden, you got it and the album opened up and became great. That’s the root of the problem with Mammal, the new Altar of Plagues platter. An avant garde post-black metal band coming out of Ireland of all places, Altar of Plagues released a very impressive debut with White Tomb back in 2009. Follow up EP Tides was good but nowhere near as impactful. Now their second full length fails to live up to the enormous potential heard on their debut. Is that potential in danger of going up in post-smoke? Read on metal warriors, read on.

Upfront, I should be clear that Altar of Plagues was never an easy band to get into. They write very minimalist, wide open post-black metal with a very empty, lonely, diffuse sound. I know it will make a lot of people cringe but I would compare them to stripped down Agalloch mixed with Wolves in the Throne Room and Tool (yes, I said Tool). On Mammal they take their core style and push it further outward into the realms of drone and shoegaze. Opening track “Neptune is Dead” clocks in at a whopping 18:44 minutes and it’s a sparse, empty journey much of the way. Although it starts with blast beats, discordant riffing and Dave Condon’s blackish shouts (that sound as if he is screaming from far off in the vastness), things quickly shift into minimalist, spacey, vaguely black metalish riffing that goes for extreme repetition and drone. Long stretches of the song have very little going on at all and sometimes it works, sometimes it’s just seems like nothing going on. That said, the song suceeds in its own meander-metal way (especially the Agalloch-like riffing at 8:15). “Feathers and Bones” although more aggressive at times, ultimately feels bland over the course of its nearly twelve minutes and much shoegazery doth ensue (the paucity of ideas within doesn’t justify such a drawn out length). “When the Sun Drowns in the Ocean” is a long, experimental track with no vocals save those provided by weeping, sobbing and at times chanting women. Altar of Plagues It’s eerie, strange and surely interesting for awhile but not something most will ever have occasion to listen to more than once. The album ends on a fairly bright note with “All Life Converges to Some Center” which ends up being the most interesting track on offer (the dichotomy between the blast beats and tranquil guitar work is very effective at 3:42).

The production is something of a mystery. It’s muddled, murky and the vocals often sound like they’re broadcasted from the shitty speakers in the New York City subway system. The drums are way up front, too loud and drown out the guitars at times. It’s a soupy, chaotic mess that also manages to sound pretty flat. However, it lends the album a certain remote coldness, which I assume was the general idea. In fact, at times throughout Mammal it seems as if you’re listening to reverberations through a vast, empty void instead of a metal album.

While there are some cool, interesting moments across Mammal (mostly confined to the first and last songs), this doesn’t seem like something you would listen to unless you were in a bleary eyed trance or extremely hungover. These guys have talent and have their own style but they seem to be drifting here and there’s too much repetition and meandering. If you’re a huge fan of droning avant garde metal, this may be your idea of good time. As much as I enjoyed their debut, I just couldn’t crack the code that would allow me to fully get into this. While it’s on the cusp of a 3.0, I need less challenge and more payoff. I’m hoping they live up to their potential next time.

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  • Brian M

    Hmmmmm. Have to admit that while I often agree with your reviews I firmly disagree here. I guess I expect the murkiness in this “subgenre”.

    Also, to my ears,the drums being up mixed so far up front makes sense here. I mean, this is no Ulcerate, but…

    What it comes down to I guess is I like this kind of spare, droning, almost ambient and repetitive music. Heck, I love Godspeed you black emperor for god’s sake!