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Altar of Plagues - Teethed Glory and Injury CD (album) cover

TEETHED GLORY AND INJURY

Altar of Plagues

 

Experimental/Post Metal

3.83 | 50 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
5 stars 'Teethed Glory And Injury' - Altar of Plagues (9/10)

Earlier today, I received word that the Irish black metal trio Altar of Plagues have decided to part ways. While it's hopeful and certainly conceivable that we'll be hearing work from these musicians under different guises in the future, it seems a very meaningful time for this project to have collapsed. Many bands may cling onto past glories long after the fire has gone out, Altar of Plagues have called it quits at the peak of their success which, from where I'm standing, seems to be the next best thing to dying at 27. Considering the band was little more than a bedroom project six years ago, it's pretty incredible to see what Altar of Plagues have managed to achieve since then; with one of my all-time black metal favourites (2011's "Mammal") counting among their accomplishments. Always playing with one foot in the ring and one foot outside, it's fitting that Altar of Plagues' tentative swansong be such an anomaly. In a genre and 'scene' that unfortunately tends to value tradition over fresh perspective, it's no wonder that "Teethed Glory And Injury" has spurned its own minor controversy in the underground. The fusion of black metal with post rock or industrial music has been done before, but rarely has the blend sounded so seamlessly. Black metal is but one of a number of forces working within the album's framework, and it's sure to spit out any listener looking for a more clearcut musical experience. This sort of atmospheric experimentalism tends to fire blanks most of the time, and that's all the more reason for Altar of Plagues' third album to have impressed me so much. There are so many risks the band have taken with Teethed Glory And Injury", and it's no small victory to have it all come together so powerfully. A gorgeous soundtrack to the end of Altar of Plagues, and the rest of the world.

From the atypical cover alone, it should be clear to almost everyone that Altar of Plagues are beyond the traditional scope of black metal. Of course, to those with the fortune to have heard their work before this, this should not come as any surprise; "White Tomb" was a remarkable, monolithic slab of atmospheric black metal, and the near-perfect "Mammal" took the band's sound closer to the realms of Isis moreso than anything. With "Teethed Glory And Injury", it feels like Altar of Plagues have found a truly unique niche within black metal. Comparisons can still be made with next-wave black metal contemporaries like Wolves in the Throne Room and Fen, and some of the post-metal veterans, but with Altar of Plagues' introduction of drone and noise, their sound has become that much more exact. Perhaps even more notably is the fact that "Teethed Glory..." represents the first time on a full-length where the band has not pursued the longer song structures that defined "White Tomb" and "Mammal". The meticulous repetition so typical of atmospheric black metal is largely removed from Altar of Plagues' musical formula, instead replaced by a much more chaotic, unpredictable ebb-and-flow style of composition.

Rather than fleshing out a few ideas into monstrously looming pieces, Altar of Plagues have condensed musical thoughts aplenty into a relatively tight space. One minute, the album may lull into a deceptively soothing piece of ambience, but its sonic opposite is usually soon to follow. This is not to say that "Teethed Glory And Injury" sounds patchy and aimless, although I would not be surprised if some listeners perceive it that way. Unlike the rest of Altar of Plagues' oeuvre, these tracks cannot function without their context. They lack the self-contained focus to be considered 'songs', and are rather pieces of an overlying puzzle. While some listeners may have anticipated a less challenging experience from the shorter song lengths, "Teethed Glory And Injury" requires a great deal more of the listener's attention than in works past. Suffice to say, there are far more surprises to be had on the album.

Altar of Plagues have seemingly mastered the ability to balance a primitive, noisy production with the meticulous calculation and grace of an auteur. The soundscape is not wildly dense or detailed, but there are more than enough nooks in the band's studio product to properly reward an attentive listener. The composition does not require a virtuosic grade of musicianship, but the atmosphere benefits from the band's healthy knowledge of dynamic. The guitars are sludgier than listeners will have come to expect from black metal, and they pack a greater punch as a result. While vocals have never been a particularly major element of Altar of Plagues' music, "Teethed Glory And Injury" has revealed an emotional depth and range to the band's vocal arsenal that adds an intense sense of passion to the music. A solid mixture of mid-register growls and traditional rasps make up the mainstay of the vocals, but there are moments here (particularly on the album's first emotional highlight "Burnt Year") where the vocals ascend to a near-inhuman howl. Overtop a melodic-yet- aggressive rupture of guitars, the resulting feeling is enormously cathartic. Clean vocals are less common, but are still used wonderfully to help accentuate some of the album's more soothing moments.

"Teethed Glory And Injury" shows a band taking many risks, and having little regard for the preconceived constraints for the genre they're considered part of. From where I'm standing, that's a cause for respect. To hear a band successfully reinvent a style in their own image is quite a sight to behold, and not something I've too often heard in black metal. It's too early to see if Altar of Plagues' third and final album will have the same lasting emotional resonance that "Mammal" had for me, but it's a healthy possibility. Criticisms of the album feeling patchy and lacking structure stand to reason, but it's that freedom from constraint that makes "Teethed Glory And Injury" such a bloody fascinating listen. I will reserve hopes that the band will eventually decide to get back together, but if that doesn't happen, I can't think of a better note for Altar of Plagues to have ended on.

Conor Fynes | 5/5 |

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