Spain is not the first country that comes to mind when I am seeking challenging, forward-thinking metal, but Altarage and Wormed alone make a compelling argument for its inclusion in an arena that France, Finland, and Iceland have more or less monopolized for me. But while Wormed raze the cosmos, Altarage plumb nihil
with a fearsome sound that begins in the multi-limbed darkness of Gorguts and crosses tentacles with their contemporaries in Portal, Gigan, and The Ominous Circle. In short: Altarage are bleak, negative, and intimidating death metal.
Like its predecessors Nihl
, The Approaching Roar
can seem hopelessly opaque at first listen. Time reveals it’s only one of those things. Altarage are so routinely compared to Portal that Altarage are sometimes even referred to as Spain’s “answer” to them; while such comparisons hold, Altarage remind me most of Baring Teeth (who are often sidelined as Gorguts imitators) in their sensitivity to the eerie and spectral in the midst of incomprehensible technicality. Like Baring Teeth, they eschew melody for the tectonics of rhythm, carving canyons of reverberating shadow where unearthly grunts and growls clamber above rivers of torrential drums and bass. These are bands for whom silence plays as vital a role as cacophony.
“Sighting” begins in the former, piling coil upon coil of mounting dissonance that fades just as it reaches apex density--sinking slowly back into silence. This dissolution is interrupted by “Knowledge,” which also recedes into murk and silence. Out of that emerges “Urn,” a song exemplary of not only the band’s mastery of their genre, but of the album’s dynamic relation to silence: it’s more doom-oriented than the rest of the album, gathering power in murmurs and other abstract noises that bring to mind a darkness full of slumping, crawling things. Even knowing what’s coming, the sheer volume and density of the track’s midpoint explosion can take a listener by surprise.
It brings sharply into focus the back-and-forth from silence to cacophony that lends The Approaching Roar
its vertiginous, downwards-spiraling momentum. “Cyclopean Clash” and “Chaworos Sephelln” echo “Urn”--really, the first three songs--with writhing, intelligent structures that weaponize their rests and pauses, reminiscent of “Perikaryon” and “Aqueous” from Transitive Savagery
. Like that album, The Approaching
Roar seems knowingly built over a non-ground, as if beneath the warped monoliths of death metal on display lies a vast cavity into which it’s all poised to fall. The more aware of it one becomes, the more these interstitial silences come to matter more than the noise. Further listens are less preoccupied with the barrage of songs than with the way many of them accelerate themselves into nothing; the way The Approaching Roar
remains forbiddingly nebulous, never settling into predictable structures despite a spirit of austere rhythmicality; with the irresolvable note of doubt on which “Engineer” ends. It seems, more often than not, that we are not listening for anything more than the approaching roar of silence.