Altar of Plagues - White Tomb
Profound Lore Records
Black Metal
4 songs (49:59)
Release year: 2009
Official Myspace, Profound Lore Records
Reviewed by Charles
The first full-length album from Ireland’s Altar of Plagues emerges at a time when the band seems to be gaining something of a reputation. Support slots with Mayhem (with whom they have little in common musically) and Wolves in the Throne Room (with whom they share a great deal of ground) have been complemented by glowing reviews for this effort, White Tomb.

This makes sense; the band makes the most out of the heavily post-rock/ambient-influenced sound that seems to constitute black metal’s cutting-edge zeitgeist nowadays, following intriguing recent releases from bands such as Amesoeurs, Fen, Austere, and the progenitors, Wolves… themselves. In fact, it is that last one’s work, particularly Black Cascade, that is probably the closest reference point for this record. Made up of four “songs” (maybe “movements” is a better word), similarly epic in length, and with a nature-centric, even ecological theme, you could uncharitably ask whether this is ultimately any more than a tribute.

That would be unfair, because the band work with these increasingly-familiar ideas (relatively gentle melodies and long, pastoral vamps; a minimalist emphasis on enveloping ambience etc.) extremely well. So much so, in fact, that I can see myself playing this one for a lot longer than any of the other albums I’ve mentioned so far in this review. What makes it stand out is its depth of tone, as with the opening of first segment Earth: As a Womb, in which an effectively subtle synth overlays unhurried guitar noodling. When this gives way to a more straightforward whirlwind blast, the resurfacing of these gentler elements adds a cinematic sensibility; icecapped mountains becoming visible on the horizon of a violent snowstorm, if you want to get poetic.

Drawn out crescendos are adeptly manipulated here, and the breakdowns from which they are launched are often atmospheric and sometimes even endearingly folky. Best of all, the band is not averse to sporadic and bizarre songwriting twists. There are the very occasional, almost Tool-like snaking riffs, rare reverberating drone diversions, as in Earth: As a Furnace. And most curiously, the band jarringly and harrowingly transmogrifies into Khanate, a third of the way into Through the Collapse: Watchers Restrained. This comes completely out of the blue.

It seems to me like this is a record that may struggle for air in today’s black metal scene, but it would be a shame if this were the case. As the exceptional closer, Through the Collapse: Gentian Truth winds down into silence, you are left impressed by the melodic scope and dynamic power of White Tomb. As debuts go, this is impressive indeed.

Killing Songs :
Album as a whole
Charles quoted 86 / 100
Other albums by Altar of Plagues that we have reviewed:
Altar of Plagues - Teethed Glory and Injury reviewed by Goat and quoted 90 / 100
Altar of Plagues - Mammal reviewed by Charles and quoted 85 / 100
Altar of Plagues - Tides reviewed by Charles and quoted no quote
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