At the turn of the year between 2016 and 2017, I was going through a rather rough patch. Even music, one of the steady forces in my life, was largely ringing hollow and failing to elevate my mood. But those releases which broke through my personal quagmire have endured for me all the more and one of those was Altar of Oblivion‘s EP called Barren Grounds. Though it only ran for 4 tracks through 19 minutes, its singular, dusty, atmospheric approach to doom metal captured my imagination and has stayed with me. I was therefore excited to note a 2019 full-length, their first in seven years, appropriately entitled The Seven Spirits. Excitement all too often ultimately reaches disappointment but I had faith in these Danish doom-mongers.
I was first struck that Seven wasn’t really the record I was expecting. Barren Grounds was a delicate and somber release whereas this is a beefy and burly affair; you feel the difference between an emotive power and an almost physical one. It features powerful riffs, a powerful guitar tone and powerful baritone vocals. Opener “Created in the Fires of Holiness” marks this intent with a thick, groovy lead and stomping percussion off the bat. Though its succeeding track “No One Left” begins with the sparse guitar melody which evokes Barren Grounds, this quickly gives way to greater urgency. It’s impossible for the roundly strong lead riffs to fail to get you moving, whether your feet, your neck or your fists. There’s a distinctive chunkiness to Seven which confers on it a real sense of “metal.” It’s guitar-led, fist-pumping and old-school, exactly the sort of thing which gets Steel out of his tree in the morning.
Not to be content with simply being powerful, Seven is also BIG. The mid-paced riffs are slow enough to be easy to follow on the first listen but fast enough to escape the lethargy which pervades shittier doom, and Mik Mentor’s grand, ESL vocals have sufficient pathos to carry tunes with titles such as “No One Left,” “Solemn Messiah” and “Grand Gesture of Defiance.” “Epic” scarcely does justice to the grandiosity and size of the music which is forged in places; “Gathering at the Wake” is a monster crafted with the tools of sonorous vocal notes, chunky riffs, faux-string synths and well-placed solos. The band I hear is Atlantean Kodex, traversing a mammoth-strewn landscape similar to those Germans. Even the quieter moments, such as across the introduction and build on the title track, only exist to begin crescendos or accentuate the size of the music against which they contrast.
So the scope of the music is BIG. But I find that the music can begin to blur towards the rear of the record. It’s tonally and compositionally consistent throughout; the tone and composition have impact to begin but also do little to distinguish themselves as things progress. “Language of the Dead” and “Solemn Messiah” perhaps lack the distinction of the earlier tracks through simple similarity. And while Mentor’s vocals are appropriately distinctive with the controlled delivery in his lower range, I don’t think he quite hits the mark when stretching himself for higher notes at a greater volume. Some of the depth and character is lost by comparison.
My overall enjoyment with Seven is tempered slightly as although it is meaty and satisfying, some tracks lack the force of others. I am also not compelled to regularly skip to it above other new listening as with the best albums I review. But it’s a strong album nonetheless and well worth the time of the many doom aficionados roaming these forsaken lands. I hope this can be an entry point for our listeners to Altar of Oblivion, who have thus far flown under the radar.