Altar Of Plagues – Mammal

To say this was one of my personally most anticipated albums of the year is quite the understatement. I’ve been waiting for this, it seems, for a long time. And today it’s finally released into the wild. And the wait was oh so worth it.

1. Neptune Is Dead

2. Feather And Bone

3. When The Sun Drowns In The Ocean

4. All Life Converges To Some Center.

Altar Of Plagues are an Irish black metal act, leaning to the more atmospheric side of the genre. And by atmospheric I mean that their music conjures up images of life and almost certainly, death. When you listen to this band, you get lost in soundscapes that, whilst created in a studio, transport you to an entirely different world. Their previous full length, White Tomb and last years EP, Tides, propelling them to an extensive US tour and into this humble writers blackened heart.

Neptune Is Dead is the opener. And what an opening track it is. The initial sound is hard to place, it’s dense and fills you with a sense of dread and foreboding. Daring you to carry on listening. I urge you to carry on listening. The drums kick in, then the vocals, then your breath is taken away. My jaw quite literally dropped the first time I heard this. But wait, because there’s more. The guitar flourishes are classic, if I may say that, Altar Of Plagues. You know you’re hearing AoP, but this record sees them ascend to a completely new level of musicianship and songwriting.

You get the feeling that this is the most personal record AoP have put out. And reading recent interviews with lyricist/vocalist/guitarist James Kelly leaves you with no doubt that this album means a great deal to him. The most incredible moment in this song pummels you around the thirteen minute mark. The vocals are agonised howls, and if I’m making it out correctly (which is unlikely) the most affecting line “I feel, I find, nothing…” really hits you in the gut. Deep down. It’s eighteen minutes of pure unrelenting heartache.

UPDATE:
I have it on good authority that the lyric I spoke about above is actually:
“I search for a greater meaning and still I find nothing,” much more powerful than I originally heard. The highlighted part being the true lyric and not what I actually thought it was. Lesson ? I suck at making out words in songs.

The drums on this album really stand out. And no more than on Feather And Bone. They build up in the first minute of the track, leading up to a punishing beat that never seems to slow down and screams of “….I fade to nothing.” Again, the word nothing. So prominent in these two tracks. I can’t imagine what it is that has elicited such a feeling. But it’s probably safe to say it was quite extraordinary. There’s a number of instances of clean vocals in this song, and they are just as harrowing as any of the usual black metal shrieks you’ll hear. Particularly when one of the other more arresting words is “…empty.” The track fades out and again, as the start of Neptune Is Dead, there’s a feeling of massive apprehension.

When The Sun Drowns In The Ocean, is for all intents and purposes, an instrumental track. Except for the extremely haunting sample used at the beginning and at the end. As stated on the bands official website (http://altarofplagues.com/) the vocals used are from an ancient Irish custom of performing what is known as a “keening” at a funeral. I strongly suggest heading to that link and reading what the band themselves say about this use of sound. It’s unnerving and especially at the end, a little bit terrifying. It’s perfectly placed to demonstrate the albums affair with the themes of death and of dying. The music itself takes on an almost industrial tone between the two samples. It’s hypnotic in quality, much like the “keening’s” themselves. A beautifully constructed relationship between the two extremes of sound in this song.

The feedback at the end of track three segues faultlessly into All Life Converges To Some Center and an almost choral vocal intro. And then a crushing tone to jolt you back into somewhat of a reality. Again, absolutely fierce wails are the order of the day here. But by no means is this an insult, because this music requires the complete expulsion of emotion from the body. And you honestly believe that the heart and indeed soul is in these lyrics and the need to express them. The closing minute of the track is all fuzzy bass, percussion and white noise. Beautiful.

In short, this album lives up the hype I placed on it’s shoulders. It’s exactly what I hoped for, desolate, sad, despairing. And so much more.

Feather And Bone.

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