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Altar Of Plagues - Teethed Glory And Injury CD (album) cover


Altar Of Plagues

Experimental/Post Metal

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Conor Fynes
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.

Report this review (#999066)
Posted Tuesday, July 16, 2013 | Review Permalink
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
5 stars Teethed Glory & Injury is a breathtakingly eerie and nothing less than revolutionary take on extreme music.

Altar of Plagues, one of the pioneers of the 'post-black metal' movement, has again refused to stay in one place for more than an instant. In what seems to be the antithesis of recent albums such as Deafheaven's 'Sunbather', whose wholly sterile and unexciting take on a seemingly interesting concept (of writing optimistic, inspiring black metal) has swept the underground music community by storm- Altar of Plagues strive to remain utterly unique and succeed in flipping the bird to many a black metal band these days, bands who present to us long winded compositions that slowly putter up and down (nothing I'm against by the way). AoP decide to mix it up a little- combining touches of post-rock with electronic elements with powerful, guttural black metal, and packing them into songs that are usually at the 5 minute mark, AoP have managed to package bursts of absolute brutal, honest, and mesmerizing ecstasy. It's the same kind of in-your-face property I would associate with favorite bands such as Cardiacs (not by sound at all as much as in concept), the type of grittiness that makes your skin crawl with wonder and curiosity.

From the first seconds of the first track 'Mills', you can sense a tension that can tear you apart at the seams. The slow build-up of this song is so edgy and beautiful, that once the explosion of 'God Alone' starts you end up both awed and utterly baffled. The dissonant guitars and rolling drums unleash into an absolute terror onset of manically guttural growls, howls and croons that are some of the best I have heard in the extreme metal genre. Vocals delivered with such rawness and yet strange clarity and unwavering confidence that you can't help be shaken to your core. It is in the next song when Dave Condon howls 'I've watched my son dieeeeeeeee'- a line you might roll your eyes at when reading it in this modest internet review but a line howled so intensely in the album you want to close yourself off in a dark corner and never really talk to any solid matter ever again.

The album continues to weave in and out of fascinating and beautiful ambient like sections and into these epic instrumentals. The oriental sounding 'Twelve Was Ruin' starts with a strange sizzle sound coming in and out constantly- a genius touch that fills the space of the song with a completely different density. The song then ponders on a beautiful Middle Eastern sounding riff which escalates eventually into an epic blast-beat crescendo. Songs such as 'Scald Scar of Water' have opening riffs so nasty and tense they suck you in almost in the same sense as when you can't stop staring at roadkill (only in an entirely enjoyable way I promise). The closing 'Reflection Pulse Remains' is a beautiful instrumental achievement with an off-kilter opening guitar melody which soars into a twin guitar melody tremolo-picked so tastefully that the guitars meld together into some strange dreamy soundscape, closing the album on such a satisfactory high-note you can't wait to play the whole damn thing over again just to hear those last moments all over again.

It is sad to say that this is AoP's last album, for now at least. The band split in June 2013 and for now it seems has called it quits at the absolute peak. 'Teethed Glory & Injury' is an album for the extreme metal ages- a sick celebration of the extreme. But just as its absolute ingenious cover radiates- the extremities are dealt with such confidence, brutal honesty, and a strange sense of wonder and inexplicable ecstasy that the extreme starts sounding very very logical. One of the pinnacles of the genre- helping the genre itself become one of the most innovative and impressive spectacles we have today.

Report this review (#1101605)
Posted Saturday, December 28, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars

At the time of its release, Teethed Glory and Injury confounded listeners. It was a complete left turn; it sounded like essentially nothing else that had ever been released in either the post-metal or the black metal genres, let alone Altar of Plagues' fairly pastoral discography to that point. The songs were much shorter and the band incorporated substantial influence from electronic and industrial music, presaging the direction front man James Kelly would subsequently take with his electronic music project Wife after Altar of Plagues' breakup. Unsurprisingly, it attracted a mixed reception at the time.

As time has passed and the initial shock of the album faded, the controversy has largely subsided; it is fairly commonly praised as Altar of Plagues' best release and one of the best releases in the subgenre that, for lack of a better term, is dubbed post-black metal. It is, truth be told, not actually as much of a departure as it seems at first glance. The songs may be shorter, but for the most part they are essentially movements of a much longer composition, much as Altar of Plagues' previous albums were. The album really only contains a few gaps, and it's likely as not that they were placed there largely to enable the album to be placed on vinyl without requiring extensive editing. (As it stands, the track order was still altered for the vinyl release, more on which below.)

The album does, however, have much wider emotional range, which is in all likelihood both the factor that most confused listeners on its initial release and the album's greatest strength. Much has been made of "Burnt Year" in particular, which contains some of the most inhumanly tortured-sounding vocals on record. Reading the lyrics (which I highly recommend; these are several cuts above your average metal lyrics) just makes the experience more intense.

Teethed Glory and Injury has at the bare minimum the feeling of a concept album; several tracks make reference to a son's death, and some song titles appear in different songs (the title for "A Remedy and a Fever" actually appears in "Burnt Year", for instance). The lyrics are clearly rooted in a sincere and deeply felt grief of some sort, and they seem to be influenced by the long struggle Ireland has had with the corruption of its church, but as they are also clearly intensely personal, I won't waste too much time speculating on their meaning.

The lyrics are, however, clearly a major reason why the album contains such emotional shifts. There are plenty of the pastoral moments that marked Altar of Plagues' previous releases, but when this album gets heavy, it is nightmarish. "Burnt Year" is not merely the heaviest part of Altar of Plagues' discography but one of the heaviest metal songs I've ever heard (and if not for the closing eighty seconds, which are substantially lighter, there might honestly not be any contest). Several other songs, such as "God Alone" and "Reflection Pulse Remains", get nearly as heavy.

It might be worth noting here that the vinyl edition has a different track order than the CD and digital releases. Because "A Remedy and a Fever" is almost nine minutes long, it was swapped with the much shorter "Twelve Was Ruin" in order to keep the running time of each side fairly consistent. This caused quite a bit of confusion when the album was released, as people who had the digital versions were using the track listing for the vinyl and vice versa. Regardless of the track order, "Twelve Was Ruin" should be roughly four and a half minutes long, and "A Remedy and a Fever" should be roughly eight minutes and forty-five seconds long. If your version has those lengths swapped, you've got the wrong tags.

It's difficult to evaluate individual tracks on this album; to be honest, I don't even know where all of them start, and I couldn't tell you what song titles correspond to many of the songs without looking them up. I will say, however, that the moments that most frequently stick with me are the climax of "Burnt Year", the expansive midsection of "A Remedy and a Fever", the buildup of "Twelve Was Ruin", and the devastating finale of "Reflection Pulse Remains", but it's best to take this album as a whole.

I should close by saying that a large part of the reason this album was initially divisive upon its release is because it is a very, very difficult album to absorb. Don't let the short song lengths fool you: this will require more effort to wrap your head around than Altar of Plagues' earlier, still excellent releases, even though those had much longer songs. Teethed Glory and Injury is unlike anything that preceded it, and other bands are still catching up. It is perhaps little surprise that Altar of Plagues chose to break up (aside from a brief farewell tour) after releasing it; it's quite likely they felt they'd said everything they needed to say. This is unquestionably Altar of Plagues' masterpiece and one of the finest metal albums of the decade.

Report this review (#1349732)
Posted Wednesday, January 21, 2015 | Review Permalink
3 stars Having once witnessed a wildly destructive and bloody (but thankfully not lethal) car accident, I know what it's like to see something so horrific that you simply can't look away. There's nothing pleasant about the image in front of you, but something in your primal monkey brain is insisting that you stare and take note of the bloody destruction sprawled out in front of you.

This is basically how I feel about this album. The music, if you can call it that, oscillates back and forth between horrible and downright terrifying (I mean like actually fear inducing). Sure, there is the occasional melancholic ambient passage but, like the quiet before the car accident I witnessed, they're usually rudely interrupted. And yet, despite this, I find myself revisiting this record over and over again. What the hell is wrong with me?

Report this review (#2306010)
Posted Saturday, January 11, 2020 | Review Permalink

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