Altars Ablaze – Life Desecration Review

Metal fans are stupid, mindless idiots just looking for their next fix, demanding MOAR of the same exact shit they’ve heard a billion times over. That includes me, and that most certainly includes you. Especially you. With this powerful knowledge in hand, bands who tailor their music for themselves rather than for their fans are free to produce some of most unique and compelling metal around. On the other side of the same coin, some bands with this same knowledge often phone it in, delivering a fan-servicing slab of decent material without a lick of personality in the name of album sales. Czechia’s Altars Ablaze, a blackened death metal quintet formed from members of Heaving Earth, Supreme Conception, and others, explicitly refuse to cater to the unwashed masses. Instead, they created debut record Life Desecration with their own vision in mind—one of complete sonic evisceration.

In order to achieve said evisceration, Altars Ablaze selected an application of blackened death metal built around three core elements: speed, vitriol, and stylistic versatility. Driven by Peter Heteš’ pummeling drums, this record is determined to mercilessly flay your skin with twin axes wielded by Franta “Frank” Šerák and Tomáš Halama, the dynamic duo swapping between relentless death metal riffs, icy tremolos and scorching solos. While the bog standard production job doesn’t allow bassist Pavel Šatra to be heard properly, it’s clear that his contributions provide ample low-end heft to the proceedings. Vocalist Michal Kusák acquits himself admirably, swapping between deathly roars and rasping shrieks without breaking a sweat. Their powers combined, Altars Ablaze form a record that can nimbly morph from Immolation-esque death metal on speed into a more belligerent Ars Magna Umbrae blackened char at the drop of a corpse paint marker.

If pure unfiltered violence is your goal, then Life Desecration has the goods. “Shrine Destroyer,” clocking in at a brisk 2:22, behaves like a Nile track from their early days but if they played black metal instead, and finishes off with a killer riff/lead combo at the tail. It’s short and sweet, but it hits hard and leaves you bleeding. Meanwhile, “Drenched in Wrath and Blood” and “With Bone Crowns and Iron Scepters” offer the most compelling songwriting on the album. Each boasts vicarious percussion, engaging ebbs and flows between deathly grooves and blackened warpaths, and nifty evolutions on their respective themes for added spice—plus a few well-placed pinch harmonics for good measure. Even the bloated closer “Glorification of Rats” returns dividends in those sections where Altars Ablaze deftly toys the line between thrashy, classic death metal and second wave black metal without ever truly mimicking either. This, in turn, creates a cool effect of pleasurable nostalgia without the sour aftertaste of knowing without a doubt that I’ve heard this somewhere else.

Unfortunately, most of the material outside the aforementioned highlights relies too heavily on brute force and sheer velocity to carry the record to the finish line, leaving actual songwriting behind. “For the Lifeless Love of a Crucified Corpse” is fast and mean, but there’s no personality to speak of behind its gnashing teeth. “Beneath the Smouldering Ruins” suffers a similar fate, though in this case the cause is recycled output already utilized in the first quarter of the record. Elsewhere, “Across the Empires of Death” and “Life Desecration” create conflicting experiences wherein good riffs and interesting leadwork fail to make up for messy compositions, comprised of elements that simply don’t work well together. Meandering guitarwork and a general lack of momentum in songwriting further weaken these selections, dragging Life Desecration even further away from greatness.

I applaud Altars Ablaze for staying true to themselves and only writing music that suits them. That’s a respectable goal, and in the pursuit of that goal, Life Desecration is a respectable effort. While a bit of housekeeping would go a long way towards improving this group’s future output, there are plenty of solid ideas and killer performances on deck to please many a fan of vicious, relentless blackened death metal. It is my hope, then, that Altars Ablaze reads this review, tells me to go fuck myself, and returns bigger and badder than ever with their next record.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Lavadome Productions
Releases Worldwide: September 16th, 2022

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