Monday, May 16, 2011

Altar of Plagues: Mammal (2011)

Altar of Plagues is a rising star in the burgeoning post-black metal scene. Their highly-anticipated second full-length, Mammal, was released last month.

MammalMuch like the terms "black metal" and "post metal" can describe any number of widely varying styles, "post-black metal" is such a woefully inadequate way to describe this style of music. Why is it only death metal gets a billion different sub-sub-genre descriptors? Altar of Plagues produces time-stretching music with depressing emotional impact. That's the key.

Black metal is only one element of the sonic palette, with the rasping vocals and occasional tremolo picking or dissonant chord. Other times, they use purely ambient soundscapes, or, in the more melodic moments, they sound quite a bit like Tool. They stretch time by gradually adding in and subtracting different elements, but otherwise lulling the listener into a trance. The impact of the music is felt because of their heavy reliance on--and mastery of--the loud/quiet/loud dynamic.

But a detailed description of what the music sounds like really does a disservice to what they're trying to accomplish. This is not a technical piece, or a scholarly work of analysis. You just need to know enough to know that this is a worthwhile record. If the above elements have ever impacted you, then this record will likely deliver. It's a very good example of the style. If this type of music does nothing for you, there's nothing particularly new about it to change your mind.

The Verdict: Altar of Plagues aren't reinventing the post-black wheel that they helped to invent in the first place, and Mammal is not so amazing that it raises the bar. Instead, it's a firm statement that this band can reach that bar when they please. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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