It seems obscurity begets even greater obscurity in the underground music scene. You see, Ereb Altor is a highly obscure side project by members of the only slightly less obscure (but good) doom band Isole. Ereb Altor began life as a viking/folk infused doom band intent on shamelessly worshipping Bathory‘s Hammerheart opus, and to their credit, they did some pretty amazing things with such a single-minded inspiration. Their By Honour album was a meaty slice of viking doom with powerful, Odin-approved clean vocals and a hugely epic flavor (check that thing out, its like the soundtrack for hiking to Valhalla). Follow up The End, while also quite good, lacked a bit of the epic primacy of the early material. Now, with the arrival of Gastrike, they’ve almost completely renounced their sound and style in favor of a much more raw, black metal attack with only hints of viking and doom remaining. Sure, they can’t seem to fully shake their creepy obsession with Bathory and all things Hammerheart (if the mighty Quorthon was still with us, he’d have a restraining order against these dudes), and they’ve expanded to include some similar SIG:AR:TYR and Falkenbach influences, but this is a WAY different album than their prior output. It’s pretty much all black metal with bits and pieces of their old sound dancing around the edges as accents. While I much prefer their old sound, this actually works well and there are a few really outstanding songs here. It’s also a surprisingly diverse release with a lot of things going on.
I’m not sure why, but the chaps in Ereb Altor saw fit to put the least engaging song first. “The Gathering of Witches” isn’t bad by any means, but it is a fairly generic, mid-tempo black metal song. It has that old Bathory vibe, but updated with a Norwegian ethos a bit like Darkthrone. It sure shocked me to hear how they changed their sound and I was a bit worried they were about to take me on an extended slog through overally slogged generic black metal territory. With “Dance of Darkness” however, they quickly show the potential the new sound has. While there’s the same bruising blackened sound, the chorus hits you with big, cleanly sung, semi-chanting vocals and boy, does it work well and hook you right in. It becomes instant and memorable at that point. This blueprint is even more fully realized on album highpoint “Dispellation,” which expertly blends the epic, Hammerheart influence with the new blackened vibe. The riffing sounds huge and when the chanting and clean singing comes back in, it’s sword-in-one-hand-beer-in-the-other epicness (with slight traces of NWOBHM in the riffing). It’s sweeping, heroic and just generally BAD ASS! This is simply a great song from start to finish and I love it muchly. A must hear!
They keep the positive momentum going with the excellent “Boatman’s Call” which uses those clean chants to great effect during a shifting, morphing song that runs from black n roll to thrash to doom. Also very good is the Falkenbach/SIG:AR:TYR style epic romp and drone of “Mistress of Wisdom.” “I Djupet Sa Svart,” sounds a lot like Samael‘s Ceremony of Opposites material before shifting into a throwback epic viking style and eventually shifting again toward atonal but melodic blackened thrash that sounds like The Hammers of Misfortune fighting Goatwhore in a dirty back alley. While none of the songs are failures, “Seven” and the aforementioned “The Gathering of Witches” definitely suffer by comparison to the stronger tracks.
Throughout the entire album, they manage to create a feeling of bleakness and depression which adds greatly to the impact of the material. They also get big props for using keyboards but never letting this feel like a symphonic black metal album. It’s the guitars, vocals and drums that set the mood here. This is far from the frilly, symph-pop blackness so common (and annoying) these days. It’ plenty raw, ugly and dangerous, just as it should be.
Both Mats and Ragnar handle the vocals and guitars and they do a fine job. Most of the riffing is simple and straight forward but they do an admirable job of blending and shaking things up by tossing in NWOBHM, doom, drone and thrash sensibilities to overset and compliment the blackened style. The vocals are the album’s saving grace by far. The black rasps are well done, but it’s the clean, epic chants and choruses that make this thing work. You have to hear them to understand how effective they are amid the blackness, but they had me at “Ooooooh.” Also of note is the drumming by new kit man Tord. He has a nicely primitive style but clearly has some chops that come across as the album unfolds.
This is an interesting release. I still prefer their original viking metal approach, but they really crafted some humdingers here. Gastrike is a bit of a grower though and it may take several spins to fully reveal itself. It’s worth the time and for those who make the effort, they might find a few “song of the year” candidates on here. I wonder if this will help put these guys (and Isole) on the metal map a bit more prominently. They deserve it and Odin commands it! Hails.