Since forming in Cork, Ireland in 2006, the intelligent, expansive ambient black metal quartet Altar Of Plagues have put the EP form to good use: 2007′s Through The Cracks Of The Earth, 2008′s Sol, and especially 2010′s Tides (my No. 2 EP of the year) are some of the strongest extreme metal short-players of the past few years. The band’s given to epic song constructions, of course, and it’s satisfying watching them spread their wings and go for something more sustained. Their full-length debut White Tomb was a 2009 standout; things come together even more remarkably on this new LP, Mammal, their most blisteringly dark, but also experimentally compelling, patient, and above-all majestic collection to date. They’ve played shows with ISIS and Wolves In The Throne Room, two decent aesthetic markers, though when they played their first NYC show, Fred and I paired them with Castevet and Velnias for a reason: This is not empty, rarefied black metal; there’s a lot of earthy, muscular punk grit here. (As Mammal’s “When The Sun Drowns In The Ocean” shows, there’s also traditional Irish folk/lore blending with industrialized ambiance.) Vocalist/guitarist James Kelly has said Mammal’s about death, but despite the album’s dark atmosphere, lyrics like “the brother, the mother, the sister and the son / all of them are gone,” the title’s suggestion/realization that we really are just base animals, and the fact that my own loved ones have been dropping like flies, this is powerfully life-affirming music. Even as it eviscerate. See, for instance, the bracing 12-minute standout “Feather And Bone.”
“Fear And Bone”’s opening lyrics:
It is a familiar place that the road leads toward,
Forever dying and stripped of all but nothing and fed to nothing.
Wide eye cannot see the beyond, they will not look upon its face.
The ride to that which has no soul, the ride to nothingness. ..
01 “Neptune Is Dead” (18:44)
02 “Feather And Bone” (11:42)
03 “When The Sun Drowns In The Ocean” (8:18)
04 “All Life Converges To Some Center” (13:15)
Mammal is out 5/17 via Profound Lore. That’s not the final artwork, it’s a detail from Timo Ketola’s work-in-progress.