Altarage – Succumb Review

I’ll just come out and say it; I have no clue what is going on in this record. As The Guy Who Explains Why Shit Like This Is Good, that really puts me in a bind. As a result, I’ve spent weeks putting off this review. But hey, maybe we can try something new; instead of me telling you what’s the point of Succumb, how about you tell me. For once, I’m going to read your comments and entertain the idea that your opinions are as valid as those of my own self, The Guy Who Explains Why Shit Like This Is Good. Go wild down there.

First, let’s get the newcomers up to speed. Altarage are a band from Bilbao born in the shadow of Portal who quickly stepped out to cast their own. In the course of five years and four LPs, Altarage have amassed an impressive – if deeply ill – body of work. Their mutagenic caverncore sunk to magmatic depths with The Approaching Roar in 2019, in which the band chiseled their bituminous death metal into strange and at times intricate shapes. Two years on and yet another album is spewing to the surface; Succumb. The band’s art-cave inclinations are as upfront as ever, but the direction is less baroque and more… cubist? It’s difficult to say.

Succumb threatens monotony many times before following through. “Foregone” plods through its runtime, and though not altogether uninteresting, the song doesn’t have many strong ideas behind it. Taken alone, the record’s mid-length cuts fare much better, but after listening to “Drainage Mechanism,” “Lavath,” “Forja,” and “Vour Concession,” dozens of times over, I’m left unimpressed by their combined force. Altarage make a point of beating these songs’ central two- or three-note progressions into the dust, an approach that doesn’t really deliver after the second time it’s used. Speaking of not delivering, the twenty one minute “Devorador De Mundos,” where the band could have really topped their ambitions in The Approaching Roar, is memorable only for its length. The last twelve minutes of the record are best described as “Altarage O))),” and while it’s something the band haven’t done before, it’s a very predictable play. Any of these cuts could have been substantially improved by a less ham-fisted approach or by some genuine experimentation – which does appear on Succumb.

Not five seconds of “Negative Arrival” pass before a first jump cut repositions the song. The last ten percent of the opening riff is wholly trampled by its overeager successor, and the offense is repeated not only in the song’s finale, but also in the aggressive transition from “Watcher/Witness” to the ambient “Fair Warning.” These sudden cuts suit Altarage well, suddenly diverting or releasing the fetid pressure they build, but I can’t help but wonder why they’re used so sparingly. Their inclusion is a bold experiment which creates a few memorable creases in the record, but the cuts in “Negative Arrival” seem more like a throw-away gimmick than a considered compositional choice. It’s a common thread throughout the album – did Altarage make a scattershot and confusing record by accident or by design?

Perhaps it’s a bit of both, and the former reinforces the latter – but I’m not impressed with Succumb. I’m confused by the sudden Tomb Mold riff in “Inwards,” a song which might be half-baked or might be intentionally jarring and short – your call. I’m interested in the odd meter of “Maneuvre,” but find the song as harmonically dull as the rest of the record. I’m simply bored by both halves of “Devorador De Mundos,” and I’m annoyed by Succumb’s monotonous mastering. At no point am I impressed.

I’ve followed Altarage long enough to not dismiss Succumb as sloppy or underdeveloped. Their previous two records had a cleverness to them that suggested very careful construction, which has lead to a sort of residual paranoia that anything as disorganized and repetitive as Succumb is the band fucking with me. But after dozens of close listens, I’ve given up on the record – I have better stuff to do than fret over whether or not I’ve figured it out. I’d rather not care anymore and leave the figuring up to you on this one.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 2 | Format Reviewed: mp3
Label:  Season of Mist Records
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: April 23rd, 2021

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