When Altar of Plagues emerged with first full-length album ‘White Tomb’ back in 2009, they were lazily touted as either ‘Ireland’s answer to Wolves In The Throne Room’ or oversimplified as ‘post-black metal’. Even when the band landed with second masterpiece ‘Mammal’ in 2011, the comparisons to the US band were still drawn out and the post-black tag stuck. In reality, there was little justification to do that. Altar of Plagues might have worked from a black metal framework and thrived from the ugly adversity of the style to bring their themes of urban oppression to life, but there was something else going on: the band were subtly shifting into further experimental textures upon that immortal second record.
If you thought the blueprints to Altar of Plagues’ sound were unusual beforehand, then you might be even more amazed by this third album. The Irish act are one of the few bands around that have the vision to see unchartered territories beyond the horizon and the ability to move into that vacuum and expand. No boundaries are to obstruct them and they can pursue whatever ambitions cross their mind – regardless of whether it seems unrealistic, pretentious or plainly too much hard work. Collaring the band with any tags, peers or groups has to be put aside so we can appreciate what is happening here, because ‘Teethed Glory and Injury’ is truly out on its own – an unbound entity, chaotically spiralling from bleak, apocalyptic electronics to nauseous, radioactive noise and in the process smashing even the highest of expectations we had for this record.
Altar of Plagues haven’t just driven themselves to new heights, they’ve changed how we think about black metal with ‘Teethed Glory and Injury’. Without any regard, the trio have taken the progenitors to the scrapyard – taking a huge risk in doing so – realising that standard emulation is not an option. ‘Teethed Glory and Injury’ is an immortal album that will be looked back on in years to come, with staunch admiration and respect, as a fascinating piece of music that bordered on the fringe by daring to go further.
‘Mills’ starts the album in some almost ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ psychedelia, fused with droney distortion and ethereal guitar work to give us a first taste of Altar of Plagues bemusing sonic contrasts. It’s a big, almost cinematic opener that paves the way to something completely unexpected with ‘God Alone’. On reflection, the standout video single sets the tone, beginning the album’s cycle of eclectic sonic movements. Like a radioactive static emanating from some unstable pylon in a post-apocalyptic world, ‘Teethed Glory and Injury’ unpredictably switches from flashing storms of jagged electric noise and unerring off-beat percussion to buzzing, electronic ambience and bass-heavy drone. In fact, Dave Condon’s work on bass has changed a lot. A hum of drone fills out the record, even in blastbeated sections, without losing any of the intensity to provide an impenetrable backbone for the album, while guitarist and keyboardist James Kelly provides plenty of echoing, synth samples that smooth over the album’s unpredictable transitions.
At times, ‘Teethed Glory and Injury’ is vicious and unrelenting yet other times it’s gently bubbling with strange ambient moments wick with a claustrophobic atmosphere, played to menacing hypnotic effect, leading up to monstrous walls of encumbering, discordant noise. ‘Burnt Year’ hears Altar of Plagues play some of their most tortured black metal material with mournful lyrics rattled off in a higher pitched vocal frenzy unlike any we’ve heard in previous the two previous records. The production on this third album is refined to say the least too, especially when considering the amount of stuff going on. The layers of sound have been carefully doctored so that polar transitions between Altar of Plagues’ sharp-riffed dissonance and sweeping cello atmospherics take interchanging precedence when needed on ‘A Remedy and a Fever’, while other remarkable twists include the extraordinary sections of harmonised clean vocals swiftly engulfing us as the violent, gritty riffs subside in ‘Twelve Was Ruin’ and ‘Scald Scar of Water’.
All in all, ‘Teethed Glory and Injury’ is inescapably oppressive but completely enlightening. This is the next level for Altar of Plagues. There are more words to give this album justice, but you’ll have to find them yourself on April 29th when you have your own experience of this masterful work.
‘Teethed Glory and Injury’ is out now on Candlelight.
Review originally published at SoundShock Webzine: