Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Altar of Plagues - Teethed Glory and Injury

As a fan of black metal, I find myself using plenty of different adjectives to describe the sounds of the genre.  A few of my favorites: “filthy,” “godless,” “muddy,” “dense,” “soul-crushing,” “bleak,” “hopeless,” and “devastating.”  You can make fun combos like “devastatingly godly” or “soul-crushingly heavy” that really speak to the music.  But grammar lesson aside, the reason I bring up black metal descriptors is that on Teethed Glory and Injury, the third full-length from Ireland’s Altar of Plagues, the band seems to be trying to encapsulate all of them.

I was a big fan of Altar of Plagues’ first two albums, 2009’s White Tomb and 2011’s Mammal, tremendously enjoying their long-form ambient black metal.  I’ve always been a sucker for long songs, so two albums spanning over an hour and a half on eight songs (total) was perfection for me.  When I heard that Teethed Glory and Injury would be nine songs, the longest of which would “only” be about nine minutes, I do admit to feeling a slight tremble of trepidation.  But now that I’ve heard the album, I’m on my knees begging merciful Dio to forgive me for my doubts.  Teethed Glory and Injury is not just a great album, it’s a statement from Altar of Plagues demanding respect as not just one of the greatest black metal bands putting out music, but as one of the best metal bands working… period.

While doubling the number of songs and cutting song lengths into quarters, the band has still found a way to keep a steady current of ambiance running through the record.  Album starter “Mills” is four minutes of instrumentation, “Twelve Was Ruin” starts with some of the most foreboding sounds of the band’s career, and the choir-like vocals underscoring “Scald Scar of Water” all fit the description of what I would call ambient.  But it’s a cold, isolating ambience; much like “Part I” from Dragged Into Sunlight’s 2012 delight Widowmaker, the quieter moments on Teethed Glory and Injury only exist to remind you that something heavier, darker, and more unforgiving is lurking when the band changes pace.

Amid this harsh ambiance is some terrific black metal; the trio of drummer Johnny King, bassist/vocalist Dave Condon, and guitarist/vocalist James Kelly certainly haven’t lost their penchant for blistering anthems of nihilistic fury; the maddening, drone-like metronome behind “A Body Shrouded,” the march-like rhythm in “Burnt Year,” and the entirety of album-standout “Twelve Was Ruin” are my favorite pieces on the record.  The real standout on Teethed Glory and Injury, however, is the enhancement of the vocals.  Where on White Tomb and Mammal it almost felt like the vocals were an afterthought, mixed underneath the music, here they shine through the darkened haze, fully showcasing Condon and Kelly’s range like never before.  The familiar growls of albums past are still present, but it’s the tortured wailing and yelping on tracks like “Burnt Year” that really showcase the duo, especially Kelly’s, skill.  The vocals on Teethed Glory and Injury are furious and chilling, more than strong enough to stand on par with the music of the album.

Teethed Glory and Injury far exceeds the hopes I had for Altar of Plagues’ follow-up to Mammal; it’s one of my favorite releases so far in a year that has already had a shocking number of incredible albums put out.  Altar of Plagues have taken the formula of atmospheric black metal that made them a band to watch and tweaked it into something even more dark and primal than they were before, while also tightening up their songwriting and trying some new things.  Teethed Glory and Injury has the feel of an album made by a band with no thought or consequence as to what anyone outside of them will think, and the confidence and belief in the music shows.  No part of the album misses its mark, no attempt at something new falls flat, and every minute feels vitally important, as though without it the whole thing might crumble and turn to dust.  I’m calling it now: Teethed Glory and Injury will be remembered as a masterpiece, and rightfully so.

- Durf

Also, here's the band's super gnarly, definitely creepy ballet-esque music video for "God Alone;" credit to Pitchfork for premiering this beauty before everyone else.

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