Altar of Plagues - _Mammal_
(Candlelight / Profound Lore, 2011)
by: Johnathan A. Carbon (
God. What a monster of a record. In 2009, the Irish black metal outfit released _White Tomb_, which would receive modest praise but nowhere near the level deserved. One of the largest connections was a comparison to an American black metal band which read like "Ireland's answer to Wolves in the Throne Room". This comparison is due to a relative similarity with style as well as thematic elements. "Ireland's answer to Wolves in the Throne Room" may sound like a slight jab, but it isn't a bad place to start. Wolves in the Throne Room, though, is more spiritual and eco-conscious comparatively to Altar of Plagues, who have have little time for mysticism with all the destruction happening. Humans are the reason for a myriad of problems, which leads to the destruction of the world. At the time, Altar of Plagues wrote from either the final moments of an ecological death throe or moments before a violent nature based coup. These subtle facts made _White Tomb_ so wonderful and lay the groundwork for the band's follow-up. There are good records and there are great ones. Altar of Plagues has outdone themselves with this nailbomb of a release. And much like aforementioned simile, _Mammal_ explodes, rips and shreds a listener's existence to bits. Much has not been changed, as _Mammal_ follows in tradition with four large tomes which act as tracks. The second wave of black metal has been taken and pushed further with post rock bridges and a ground shaking low end. The traditional shriek seen in many atmospheric black metal acts has been replaced with a hole in the throat cry from James O'Caellaigh. In fact, it takes the listener a few moments into the 18 minute opener "Neptune Is Dead" to hear the thunderous backpeddling of terraformation. Progress is halted while valleys soon transform into their maternal glaciers and paternal rivers. Glass turns to sand and the celestial bodies fall from the heavens while sky is eternally lit with the flames of transformation. If there was ever a soundtrack for massive geological, psychological and existential cataclysm, _Mammal_ would be my first and ultimately last choice. Musically, Altar of Plagues still retains the thunderous explosion heard in previous records. _Mammal_, however, shares little with _White Tomb_'s apocalyptic soothsaying. _Mammal_ is ultimately more reflective and ghostly than the immolate destruction heard in previous releases. The band's progression has led them to an infinitely more personal effort, one which still rattles the ground in horrifying ways. "When the Sun Drowns in the Ocean" comes third in the album's progression and has prompted explanation on the band's website. The vocal passages within that song are from a pre-Christian Irish funerary custom called "Keening". When a close one would die, the corpse would be presented uncombed and a female singer or singers would laments the deceased's life in improvised meter. There was supposedly rocking and movements associated but documentations of the practice rarely exist due to extensive eradication by the Catholic Church. The choice to present this Celtic custom not only speaks to Alter of Plague's dedication to folk traditions but a disdain for modern religion and the civilization in which it was cradled. The audio bleeds into the album's closing track "All Life Converges Into Some Center", perhaps crafting one of the finest closings this year.Altar of Plagues has released one of the year's more exciting albums. This fact rests in their ability to push black metal further into spaces not yet inhabited while keeping the aesthetic incredibly harsh. The album also comes with two covers with a blurry green photograph on the European Candlelight version and the all popular USBM grayscale hand-drawn artwork for the Profound Lore release. Whether or not these three musicians are Ireland's answer to Wolves in the Throne Room or _Mammal_ is 2011's answer to _Marrow of the Spirit_ will be settled during December. The midyear is almost upon us, but the first half is burning bright with the embers of haunting transformation.
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