Review Summary: Just utterly jaw dropping, every other Post-Black Metal band take note. This is how experimental black metal should be done!!!
This album is without a shadow of a doubt, the most impressive, unique and spellbinding album of the year. I had been familiar with Altar of Plagues music but had never given it a chance before, this is because I felt I had their sound down and threw them in the pile of standard Post-Black Metal bands.
I have never been so wrong, this album is a experimental black metal masterpiece; Massive soundscapes of post-metal infused black metal, which incorporates elements of drone and post-rock.
The experimentation and detail on this album is what makes it so amazing, they have come out of there comfort zone and tried something new.
The instrumentation on this album is dense, and done incredibly well. The guitars are tight and biting, there are the usual tremolo picked riffs but are rarely done to the same extent of their previous compositions, Post-Rock styled guitar which remind me of a schizophrenic Mogwai, drone/doom riffs which make the album extremely atmospheric and dark (think Godspeed mixed with Sunn O))) ), and syncopated sludgy riffs which really stand out and give the music a ritualistic and manic feel. For instance the staccato riffs in 'God Alone' which are just disorientating and spellbinding.
The bass is there but is mainly for backing up the guitar parts, but there are occasional bass rumbles and drones contributing to expanding the textural experimentation tenfold.
The standout though is the drumming; it is brilliant to say the least. There are the usual blast beats which add to the aggressive black metal fire, but there are also complex and interesting fills and beats which work perfectly with the music. Parts remind me of Dillingers drummer, others of Isis's drummer but he retains a constant style which is pretty unique to him. I think without the detailed drumming this album wouldn't be as good.
The vocals are just jaw dropping, the sounds he can produce from his mouth simply make other black metal vocalists look like pansy's. Super aggressive black metal rasps which are bone chilling but still add understandable narrative to the music, understanding the lyrics add a lot to the music which I feel some black metal bands lack. But it doesn't stop there, he also uses almost Post-Metal barks, and the absolutely blood curdling shrieks which make me take my hat off to him. These shrieks really add to the crescendo's of the music. There are also some really great clean vocals which add a great change in dynamic and add a great variant in melody.
James's production chops are shown well on this album by the increased use of synth's, loops and samples which are used to increase the atmosphere and intensity. An example of this is the introduction, where the increasing texture of samples, strings and synths just build like some of the best drone artists. These little sections of drone make the album flow really well, meaning that all the people who have seen the song lengths don't need to worry.
The attention to detail in these tracks keeps the album entertaining and memorable, this gives the album huge replay value because there is always something you missed, or a little tidbit which just wont get out of your head.
I feel this wouldn't have been as effective if the production wasn't as good as it is, everything is audible and incredibly mixed. It has a good amount of dynamics which a album of this style really needs. But the depth of the sound makes you feel like you are being engulfed by the music which makes the album a truly immersive experience. But the real triumph is how heavy/crushing the album is, his is done by it sounding gritty and dark but still having the clean sound which allow space for other textures and sounds to be incorporated. Bravo
As with anything it isn't without its faults, there are sections which could have been elaborated on to make a track a bit more progressive and lengthy, I agree with some people that some songs could have been longer. But they aren't, which makes the album sound more urgent and makes it more re-listenable. The drums also sound a bit muddy, and distinguishing between different toms is hard. But I feel this really doesn't take anything from the music, this is why I have given this 5/5. While there are faults, it didn't take away from the album enough to make me deduct points.
Well done Altar of Plagues, this is their farewell album and really rounds off there career on a epic note.