Review Summary: Perhaps not the greatest thing that ambient black metal has to offer, but with their debut EP, Altar of Plagues makes it quite clear that they have a unique bent for creating a proverbial "Soundtrack to the Apocalypse"
The soundtrack to the apocalypse. Since the creation of ambient music a long time ago, many bands have walked the path towards creating one such soundtrack, an album immaculately proportioned and polished, brimming with heart rending instrumentals, and gloomy haunted vocals that lull the listener into a trance, awash in some many artificial emotions that they are almost unable to conceive their own. I have only ever heard a few such soundtracks, most notably "F# A# Infinity," by post-rock legends Godspeed You! The Black Emperor. Altar of Plagues has created what I believe to be another "soundtrack to the apocalypse" however their definition completely redefines the hallowed phrase. Sol takes us right to the bloody genesis of the Armageddon, to a world that is still engulfed in flames and terror and brimming with raw emotion.
It's the end of the ***ing world.
In your ears.
Altar of Plagues is one of the few black metal bands that can convey more emotion than raw hate through their music. Musically, AoP surrenders nothing of the black metal sound, staying true to the tradition of hyper speed tremolo picked riffs and chord-shredding screams and shouts. The only thing that sets them apart from black metal is the complete absence of the frenzied blast beating sound. The drums are heavy and lethargic, counter-acting the brutality of the guitar work and creating a dense and stable atmosphere.
Altar of Plagues dense sound truly shines though in the guitar work. Unlike in most black metal, AoP does not write sinister, high pitched riffs that are intended to add to the carnage, they create massive ***ing riffs that come crashing down in an obliterating wall of sound that I thought I would never hear outside of doom. Despite the lack of soloing, and very little melody, the guitar never ceases to entertain.
Additionally, Sol is backed by quite a powerful vocal performance, ranging from stinging screams to throaty growls. Although this sounds no different then the average metal performance, the amount of emotion conducted through the vocals is almost inconceivable. The shrieks and shouts emanate despair, hopelessness and depression fluidly and perfectly and take the listener right the to AoPâ€™s bleak and violent vision of the end of the world.
Although a little bit hard to digest, Sol is a black metal album that breathes new life into the genre. Some songs drag a bit in places but this is true for most ambient music, particularly metal. Veterans of the genre will hardly notice.