Altar of Plagues – Mammal

Posted on May 15, 2011

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Profound Lore

5/17/2011

Halfway through the opener on Altar of Plagues‘ second album, Mammal, and it feels like I’ve been listening for an hour already. By the droning, clinking fadeout at the end of “Neptune is Dead”’s 18 minute runtime, it’s hard to believe I’ve been gone for longer than a third of that. The Irish post-black metal trio once again flex the same ability to bend time that they so deftly wielded on the Sol EP and the heavily lauded Profound Lore debut, White Tomb. It’s nothing new to black metal, which is why I wasn’t too keen on the band’s previous outings. Maybe it’s their presence among forward-thinking labelmates like Krallice and Cobalt. Or maybe the songs just weren’t that interesting. Until now.

Guitarist/vocalist James Kelly claims the album is about his feelings on death and how it eventually affects everything. “Overall I wanted the production, music, and lyrics to encompass a feel of distance, as death in itself is something that is known to all of us yet it is extremely abstract,” he is quoted telling Decibel in the press release. “Something we can know is there but cannot see or understand.” The elongated passage of time can be felt in every note on Mammal, as if life is slowly extinguishing itself within the record. Whose life is unknown, just as where we will eventually find ourselves after The Great End. But Kelly doesn’t seem concerned with that mystery (save for when he rasps, “I fade to nothing”). Instead, he seems to be concerned with the evolution of the process itself on not only its victim, but those within arm’s reach. By final track “All Life Converges to Some Center,” Kelly is reduced to chanting a mournful epitaph before strands of tremolo fray against his white-hot roar.

It’s a strangely comforting journey made cozier by the choice to paint the background with swathes of guitar and push the cavernous drums front and center. Considering the bevy of recent entries in the genre that have chosen the shoegazing whitewash approach, Mammal sounds pretty damn unique. Call it the anti-Loveless, if you like. Three tracks of swift, straight-ahead percussion and almost Eno-esque guitar wrap the listener like a blanket and would almost coax us into a catatonic state if it weren’t for the unnerving intermission, “When the Sun Drowns in the Ocean.” It’s uncommon for an ambient track to actually be heavier than the outright metal that surrounds it, but man does this one get the nod for atmospherics alone. What starts with a crackling voice from centuries past and ends with an invocation in some faraway tongue becomes one of the more discomforting moments in recent memory. But isn’t that what death is? The unknown frightens us, and Altar of Plagues console their audience with glittering guitars and a steady funeral march. Regardless of what side of the experience you’re on, the end is just a beginning.

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