Charnel Altar – Abatement of the Sun Review

Aussie trio Charnel Altar faces the dual challenges of releasing a debut album in mid-December and standing out among a crowded field of label-mates, joining Blood Harvest’s packed December offering with their unique toxic sludge of blackened death-doom. While not always to the album’s benefit, black metal instincts pervade Abatement of the Sun, propelling their filth and gore-covered Holden hatchback through the deepest doom-filled muck. Abatement of the Sun has much to offer, if not immediately: many of the album’s best pieces are buried under a questionable, if industry standard, production job, and the band is still growing as songwriters. The glaring flaws may undermine Abatement of the Sun’s horrorscape, but Charnel Altar remains a promising purveyor of filth, terror, and madness.

Charnel Altar paints their canvas of dread and despair with a varied palette. Early in the album, they leans into their death and black metal influences with an impenetrable wall of riffs and blast beats. Winding and slowly unfolding dissonant riffs are the harbingers of the doom to come (“Grave Totem”). By opening tracks with a blend of tremolo black and dissonant death riffs, the band crafts an overwhelming sense of foreboding, culminating in album highlight ‘Wormworld.” The two vocalists strain for space, gurgling from the depths before erupting into guttural shouts (“Vexation of Sorrow,” “Wormworld”). Without a dedicated track listing it’s difficult to discern for certain, but you sense that one of the vocalists is the growl specialist, while the other uses a not-quite-black metal bark. Regardless of where specific credit is due, the interplay between the two vocalists populates Charnel Altar’s hellscape with more tortured anguish than a single vocalist could provide.

The payoff for this blackened death cornucopia is the band’s mastery of doom. Thudding, plodding, eldritch horror is the band’s specialty, which makes it a bit of a shame that the most doom-filled elements don’t arrive until the album’s back half. Buzzing tremolo riffs aided by a wall of propulsive kick drums and toms drive the doom forward, which lets the band play much slower in sections where open chords alone would bore (“Slaughter,” “Wormworld”). While the snare sound can grate, it also occasionally serves the compositions well, with a pinging reverb acting as a distant clarion call foreshadowing an impending massacre on “Slaughter.” Together, the members of Charnel Altar are at their most horrifying when they invert their formula and open songs with doom sections, leaning almost into funeral doom territory to kick off “Malefic Blessings.”

Unfortunately, the black metal influences also prove a detriment to certain performance choices, sequencing, and production. The band is still growing as songwriters and learning to utilize dynamics, and most of the variation comes from tempo changes. While just varying tempo can work for a single hypnotic song, it’s audio Ambien over an entire album. The monotony often extends to the songwriting generally, where the members seem unsure of where they want to end up. These songs almost assuredly came out of many a haze-filled jam, but most of them just…end, often on a swift fadeout with some guitar feedback. It’s consistently an acrid, smelling-salt ending that ruins the promising atmospheric sludge stew fans want to waft (“Vexation of Sorrow,” “Slaughter”, highlight “Wormworld”). Even more problematic is an often thin black-inspired production that sounds distinctly worse than the debut EP. While the backgrounded vocals fighting for space certainly work to amplify the sense of horror, the production should let the instrumentation breathe.  Instead, the snare varies from a pingy icepick to the eardrum to muddled in the mix. The production and composition issues combine to mean that the album plays much longer than its 48 minutes. That the album drags is especially disappointing since none of the tracks are by themselves inessential.

Charnel Altar’s Abatement of the Sun reveals its horrors over many a successive listen, but a couple glaring flaws may deter potential fans. For those masochists willing to put themselves through Abatement of the Sun’s slowly unfolding post-apocalyptic eclipse repeatedly, Charnel Altar has much to offer. I expect that the band’s next album could be a considerable leap forward, but for now Charnel Altar shuffles off a flawed but glorious ichor and filth-covered monstrosity.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Blood Harvest Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: December 17th, 2021

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