Altar of Plagues - Mammal
Black Metal
4 songs (51:58)
Release year: 2011
Official Myspace, Candlelight
Reviewed by Charles
For all its occasional collapses into horrifying avant-doom, Altar of Plagues’s last full-length, White Tomb, actually had a lot of beauty to it. Those bleak, stretched out expanses of roaring tremolo had a swooping sense of melody to rival anything comparable American black metal acts are producing nowadays, drawing comparisons with groups like Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room, and so on. In hindsight, though at the time I described it largely as a continuation, perhaps the intervening EP Tides hinted at a darker, more gnarled attitude. That certainly seems to be the trajectory on Mammal, which still betrays a strong USBM influence- but a different kind of USBM influence.

So opener Neptune is Dead opens with the sounds of distant industrial clanging, before launching into pounding, stripped-down black metal that owes more to the harrowing battery of Leviathan or Krieg than the more familiar reference points invoked in the first paragraph. The record follows a very similar format to White Tomb (four songs at a minimum of eight minutes and this one eighteen) and so the band’s post-rock influences inevitably comes to add nuance to the harshness of the opening. Much of the middle of this track takes the form of an angsty escalation of tension as sickly clean guitar vamping and the band’s crunching and depressive black metal sound (reminding me distinctly of Krieg’s The Isolationist in timbre) wrestle for prominence. There is a relentlessly uncomfortable, twitchy feel to the whole piece- a fact highlighted by the unpleasant shrieked quality that J. Kelly’s vocals assume throughout.

Perhaps as a result of this meaner tone, Mammals is a distinctive and well-worked album (though not a wholly enjoyable one). It seems to me not to channel the windswept nature-worship of previous records but rather a dank night-time cityscape, like the perfect accompaniment to the dystopian urban future depicted in countless works of science fiction. Feather and Bone is a tense and aggressive composition that shifts ably through dark alleyways menaced by all-sorts of vagrants: guttural chug-riffs, broken bottle-waving blasting and vomit-flecked residues of sodden melody. Its latter half sees it develop into what feels like a sick mirror image of Agalloch; a pulsating melodic line cycles around and around, washed over by mournful wailing and creaking guitar chords. After this we have the penultimate When the Sun Drowns in the Ocean; an eight-minute trawl through disturbing sound effects and murky industrial ripples that seems to want to channel Axis of Perdition as a jolting centrepiece in the same way that White Tomb channelled Khanate. With the closer, All Life Converges to Some Center, Altar of Plagues settles again on more familiar terrain, though their familiarly expansive post-black blasting remains beset by night terrors. After eight and a half minutes it lumbers into the record’s most impressive idea: a gargantuan funeral doom riff, unusually rich in dolorous tonality, is given a surprising grace by the waltzingly mid-tempo rhythmic feel.

This is a darker album than its predecessor, which I think is a good thing. It sets it aside from the increasingly crowded marketplace which Altar of Plagues themselves helped to create. Instead, it fuses those ideas with the more oppressive timbres of bands like Krieg. The result is a strong album with an engrossingly pessimistic vision, albeit one which all but the hardiest listener will find gruelling in large doses.

Killing Songs :
Feather and Bone, Neptune is Dead
Charles quoted 85 / 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 - Tides reviewed by Charles and quoted no quote
Altar of Plagues - White Tomb reviewed by Charles and quoted 86 / 100
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