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Altar of Plagues
Label – Profound Lore, Candlelight
Release date – April 2011

There was a time when black metal was a small ball-type game: bands focused on making claustrophobic, personal albums to score more in the short term instead of overextending themselves. Of course, now that “black metal” is either too limiting or too broad a genre-defining term depending on who you talk to, gigantic is the rule of the day, from ambition (Nachtmystium) to sound (Deathspell Omega) to extremity to the point of ridiculousness (Waitain, Behemoth). So now couldn’t be a better time for a band like Ireland’s Altar of Plagues to rise to prominence. Through walls of luscious guitars and post-metal length tracks that actually hint at things like “forethought” and “songwriting,” the band swing for the fences, forcefully shirking off the genre’s self-conscious streak and sounding righteously experimental as well as confident. A band like this is destined for things as big as their reverb-soaked albums, sure to be nestled in the arms of critics sympathetic to forward-thinking metal (so, you know, most of them) as well as people that don’t view black metal as a rigid set of ridiculous rules or just generally ridiculous.

If Wolves in the Throne Room and Isis had a baby and raised it on a commune where they fed it only cage-free eggs and exposed it to a lot of Ulver in its teens, it would be Altar of Plagues’ debut full-length, White Tomb. But while the band have a taste for the epic, they aren’t drawing things out for the sake of sounding deep and challenging (or for the sake of sounding awesome after smoking a few dozen bowls). Parts fit together logically, moods are sculpted and expounded upon, and patience is rewarded. They’re still a metal band, though, and can sound positively lumbering and devastating when need be. And like most interesting black metal bands at this point, I would agree with those who put Altar of Plagues into the genre as well as those who scoff at the very notion of labeling them as such. The only rule seems to be “by any means necessary,” and that’s not a bad one to adhere to.

Last year’s Tides EP managed to polish up Burzum-ic mid-paced black metal and stretch it across a sky-wide canvas, so it’s going to be interesting to see how they expand their already expansive sound. Nothing is triggered or expected; the band pull off a rare feat after 40+ years of metal — sounding fresh. Wary of neither dead space nor blastbeats, Altar of Plagues revel in unpredictability. They’re some dudes to watch out for if you haven’t introduced yourselves to them yet. And it’s safe to say that a lot of ink is going to be spilled on their dense soundscapes, hopefully none of which will contain any other lame baseball metaphors.


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