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Altar of Plagues

Teethed Glory and Injury

[Profound Lore; 2013]

By ; June 29, 2013 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Metal has undergone some dramatic shifts in the past decade. Or rather, the perception of metal has changed quite dramatically since people began obsessing over its hair metal associations in the 80’s and the pop hybrid banalities that faux-metal artists perpetrated throughout the 90’s. Artists like Converge, Sunn O))), and recent critical darlings Deafheaven have taken metal from its sludge punk roots (though it never really sounds too far removed) and pushed the genre into unexplored and often divisive new areas of sound. And so Ireland’s Altar of Plagues feel like part of a group of metal bands who seem energized and excited about this newfound creative freedom. Bringing together the rapid-fire thrash of early metal with experiments in drone and noise manipulation, AoP’s latest record, Teethed Glory and Injury, feels demanding and challenging but also willing to reveal its inner workings if you’re ready to put in the time and effort needed.

Frontman James Kelly makes no attempt to hide his love of jazz—particularly Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew—and his passion has made considerable inroads into the band’s music. Jazz finds strength in growth and resolve through repetition and improvisation, and the same could be said for Teethed Glory and Injury. If Kelly’s fascination with jazz seems to be at odds with the stereotype of the howling metal barker, then so too is AoP’s music and approach to the thrash and muscle bound rhythms which have been the genre’s calling card for so long. Beginning with opening track ‘Mills,” the band carefully and succinctly lays out a simple drone with bursts of static occasionally peeking out through the subdued din. Slowly a thudding drum enters and intermittently breaks up the repetition and build-up. It’s here that we get our first glimpse of what the band has in store for us. The song slowly evolves into dense layers of black ambience, thudding percussion, and sheets of guitar wails that are primed to shear away the notion that you’ve heard this all before.

Unlike some metal records whose only concern is jackknife speed and blistering rhythms, Teethed Glory and Injury seems just as concerned with setting atmosphere and mood—the background that these songs live and die upon. But die-hard metalheads shouldn’t be too concerned, as AoP bring out the gargantuan guitar riffs and dizzying bouts of drumming on tracks like “God Alone” and “Burnt Year;” they just do so with a more cohesive narrative in mind. The riffs aren’t thrown out just for their own sake and the same is true for the acrobatic percussion. And then you have the songs like “A Shrouded Body” and “Found, Oval and Final” that work to maintain the textures and disposition of the album without sacrificing the momentum and precision that the band has worked so tirelessly to sustain. But the album’s centerpiece, the almost prog-y “A Remedy and A Fever,” is drawn out over several mini-suites, rocking back and forth behind blistering speed and haunting atmospheric pieces. The give-and-take between some of the more surprisingly delicate parts of the record and the all-out mammoth metal roar that seems to stretch the seams of the band is one of the most fascinating aspects of the record. Altar of Plagues has made a curiously individualized metal record, one which doesn’t sacrifice the grit and neck shattering tendencies common to classics of the genre.

There are times though when the buildup doesn’t quite pay off in the way you’d like, such as on “Scald Scar of Water”—where there is a constant touch of vertigo built into the instrumentation. You’re always just on the verge of feeling like you’re going over a cliff—that expectation of movement—but somehow you continually manage to retain your balance. But even this hesitation on the part of the band to fully commit can be viewed as just another in a long line of gutpunch metal antitheses. But never let it be said that the band doesn’t know what their fans want, as they gladly leave you with a smile and a broken neck on album closer “Reflection Pulse Remains.” Strung out over six plus minutes (still a far cry from the epic song lengths on their previous releases), the track veers between cyclical guitar licks, chest thumping percussive blasts, and mountain-shattering howls of rage. And while it may not peer too long into the experimental side of metal that some of the other tracks here delve into, it sits perfectly as an amalgamation of their greatest strengths and is destined to initiate bloody noses, manic moshing, and more than its fair share of fists thrown skyward in triumph. Like the end result of a bout of angry make-up sex between metal and drone, Altar of Plagues has made a record that is disquietingly personal, frequently devastating, and unfailingly metal.


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