Altar of Plagues // Teethed Glory and Injury
Rating: 4.5/5.0 —  The price I pay for doubt
Label: Profound Lore Records
Websites: altarofplagues.com  |  myspace.com/altarofplagues
Release Dates: Out worldwide 04.30.2013

AltarI may as well skip describing anything and just post a video of me attempting to eat my own hat. Yes, I was 100% convinced this album would be awful. When the album cover was released and the music video with a black metal interpretive dance was revealed, all I could think about was that they were trying too hard to be “artsy.” Not that I was against the idea of a departure from old themes, mind you — because I was one of the few who couldn’t understand why everyone liked Mammal so much [Speak for yourself, I bashed it good! — Steel Druhm]. The atmosphere of that record was alluringly bleak and distant, yes, but it also had bland drums that made everything boring and songs that were dragged out to double the length they needed to be. This has been a staple throughout their career, but their great debut White Tomb and even greater Tides EP both had a substance and sense of hypnotism that Mammal lacked. I guess descriptions of their old sound are folly though, since Altar of Plagues have made some huge changes here — all of them for the better.

While they keep many aspects of their old, blackened post-metal  sound, the long song structures are all but gone. This allows much more space for natural progression instead of relying on repetition to keep the momentum going. This is a very stark transition for the band to make, but they handled it perfectly. Considering they had already made major changes in the quality of compositions before this new direction, I couldn’t help but think this change would only make it worse. Now all I can do is eat yet another hat, because every single track on this album has something to offer and something fantastic about it. Even the intro serves to set the stage brilliantly with fantastic electronics and samples buzzing away beneath the building tremolo picking, building as masterfully as it is unforgivingly dark.

Thankfully, the electronics are a recurring theme since they add so much to the record’s atmosphere. Some of the heavier moments would be absolutely lost without the wavering, huge electronic bass notes beneath the instrumentation and some of the electronic breaks in the tracks; the latter half of “A Remedy and a Fever” being a prime example. They’re used often, but they’re always tasteful. Imagine the synth sounds used by The Haxan Cloak in a much darker context, often rumbling beneath disjointed, intense black metal. Predictably, it sounds as dark as it is fantastic. Influences of grindcore are certainly here too with much shorter, more sporadic song structures and more immediate bursts of intensity; a choice that hasn’t sacrificed the huge atmospheres the band is known for.

This would all be for nothing if other improvements hadn’t occurred, but thankfully things have progressed by leaps and bounds. The drumming, a serious complaint of mine on their past few records, has turned from some of the most boring black metal percussion to some of the most exciting I’ve heard in recent memory; perfectly handling the disjointed style of the album. The guitar work, while highly reminiscent of their old material, sports a new Deathspell Omega-like tinge which is as pleasing as always, but with a much more fitting production style. The riffs are wonderfully dissonant without sounding pretentiously so to the point of becoming a gimmick (See some Blut Aus Nord material…). The mix of chugging-riffs and huge tremolo picked lead guitars is done in such a way that can’t be mistaken for any other band. They also know just when to utilize the bigger, more intensely distorted chords and guitar work.  The vocals are better too, the rasps being more emotive than ever before.

But the real trump card this album has is that everything seems genuine rather than mere experimentation for the sake of it. Everything is tasteful and sounds like it is meant to be — it sounds like something fresh, but with everything we know and love in torrents. The album progresses so well, brilliant track after brilliant track before closing with perhaps the most memorable number — “Reflection Pulse Remains,” which has an absolutely jaw-dropping lead and riffs that leave you with no choice but to play the album again. This is a serious contender for album of the year and a true force to be reckoned with. I’ve never been more pleased to be proven wrong, despite the awful taste of my hat.