Glory Days: Altar of Plagues’ Stunning Teethed Glory and Injury
I’ve always liked Altar of Plagues, but something always kept me from loving them (aside from intimacy issues and that one time they sent me dick pics they meant to send to someone else…) One could easily point to song lengths—often stretching into teen-numbered minutes before now—and theorize that’s why I’ve basically been grafted to Teethed Glory and Injury, their latest, since I first heard it. But the normalized song lengths don’t really mean much, as none of them really make sense outside the context of the record. The real reason I’ve adored Teethed—and why you probably will to—is that it’s more focused and present than their past material. The band’s prior albums and EPs have revolved around a noxious cloud of expansive blackened post-metal, and were subsequently a lot to take in. Teethed is a lot to take in for the opposite reason: it’s so densely packed with reverb-drenched guitars ornamented with power-noise that it can be hard to decipher what’s at the center. But there’s a center there, no matter how sprawling what’s around it gets. By simultaneously tightening up and spreading exponentially further out, Altar of Plagues have finally created the masterpiece of which they always seemed to be capable.
The emphasis on noise—subwoofers often throb throughout Teethed’s runtime, as well as a healthy dose of industrial percussive fury and jaundiced synths added for good measure—is probably the newest and most successful element. Though noise is not necessarily new to black metal (see also: Wold and Gnaw Their Tongues, the latter good for some of the most deeply unsettling music you’ll ever hear), it’s exactly what Altar of Plagues needed to vault them from fascinating and lush post-whatever to jaw-dropping. While Nacthmystium hinted at the potential for noise as an effective modifier via (sadly now former) knob twiddler Sanford Parker, AoP hurl themselves out into space. Everything on Teethed Glory and Injury strays away from each bandmember having their own role: the synthesized noise bleeds into the guitars, the guitars act as a base for some electronic droning, the drums often act as an anchor but just as willingly perform as an agent of chaos when the rest of the band pulse consistently underneath a four-armed freakout. The vocals sway back and forth between being an authoritative force guiding you through and being a panicked reaction to what’s occurring beneath them. It’s bleak, it’s ambiguous, and it’s wonderful.
The vocals are one of the most strangely effective parts of Teethed, too. As divisive as black metal vocals can be, they’re used to great power here. Though reminiscent of black metal OGs Weakling, the scarred howling accurately conjures the agony and despair in Altar of Plagues’ case (as great as Weakling were, the vocals were an Achilles Heel). On “Burnt Year,” the record’s early emotional apex, unhinged screaming wraps itself around a confessional rant, the most disturbing part of it being the parts that are intelligible: there’s talk of watching one’s family members die delivered with exactly the kind of anger, sadness, and honesty something like that would require. Black metal’s usually not a place for earnest sadness—usually masked in references to Vikings or heritage, there’s a bit of (perhaps intentionally) personal distance between whomever’s rasping on record and whatever they’re actually feeling—but Teethed Glory and Injury is saturated by it. But instead of tone-deaf, melodramatic sadness, Altar of Plagues call upon the real gravity and depth of it. It isn’t pretty, and to anyone who’s been there, it’ll all sound familiar.
The oddest thing about Teethed, though, is how black metal it is. In what’s probably the most restrictive subgenre of metal, there’s not a whole lot on the surface of this record that fits into the kvlt mold: some buzzing tremolo-picked guitars and the occasional blastbeat are all that remain. But the profound darkness of it is more in the spirit of Mayhem than the umpteenth billionth reiteration of Deathcrush or Dom Sathanas. But at the core of the My Bloody Valentine-esque sheets of impenetrable sound is the genre’s true roots, a longing for something deeper and more isolated than what death metal or grindcore could produce. So while what’s packed so fervently around the core is meant to obscure what’s there, what’s there is immediately apparent. The rest of the album is not: Teethed Glory and Injury takes time to reveal itself, and then even more time is required for it to make itself even remotely tangible. But unlike other walls of noise, even on first listen, Altar of Plagues trust you to know there’s something worth looking for. Even if you never stumble upon it, the journey is all that matters here. A thoroughly constructed, incredibly complex, and immensely rewarding journey, the band have created their simultaneously most challenging and most accessible album to date. Altar of Plagues have always implied that the reality they know is bleak, but only on Teethed Glory and Injury do we really get a solid idea of how bleak it really is.