on 16 April 2009
The motherland, also known as the Republic of Ireland. When it comes to nationalities, I find it hard to distinguish what it is I am. My immediate family are all Irish and my surname stretches back into Irish folklore hundreds of years, but I was born in England. I find it strange that people feel such strong ties to their country of birth whilst I, sit lonely and gazing up at the stars, searching for answers to my ancestry and what it all determines anyway. Is it really that important? Heritage and national identity. Political metal is the most outspoken kind. The type of metal that draws the biggest arguments and the widest divisions. National Socialist black metal, for example, is ridden with strife and a lot of that has emerged from the engaged fans who're seemingly enraged by the thought of such an existing genre within music in today's society, which is meant to be liberal and accepting of all. Its ironic, really. We all preach about acceptance and judging solely on what we hear, but that's rarely the case.
Black metal has been pigeon holed. Its now known as a genre of things it doesn't do. Some say it isn't experimental enough, some say its lost the edge of the old school and there are even those that complain its too much like the old school and that there isn't enough invention in that. Its become ridiculous how anal we've all become. If I were a musician, I'd make music that I was inspired to make. Inspired by thoughts and feelings, not by fellow bands. I'd appreciate their music separate of my own. I wouldn't make music to suit the average listener. Instead, I'd make it in the hope that it at least forges a connection with one person in the world. Perhaps I could mirror their feelings, let them know they're not the only person in the world to feel the way they do. Maybe I'm being overly arrogant and overly critical of modern day fans, but it becomes really tiring listening and reading how much black metal has altered for the worst when you have bands like this who're consistently indicating the exact opposite of all the criticism.
Though I may not understand the appeal of celebrating one's own nation through music, I do understand the importance of talented bands in areas not commonly associated with metal and, in this instance, black metal. Ireland isn't notorious for its beaming black metal scene, or any metal scene for that matter. Acts like Altar of Plagues have developed their career underneath the surface bands - acts like Cradle of Filth, over in neighbouring Britain, who gain the most fans for their `approachable' style. Its been said many times before, but black metal fans are some of the most uptight fans in the metal genre. Hordes complain about the state of the genre, claiming it to be sub-par in comparison to the genre that Venom started, way back when. However, the majority of these so-called fans have seemingly never persisted with the genre. They hear one record from the 2000's and pigeon hole the rest of the genre based upon the negative attributes of that one piece. Unfair and unjust.
The best way in which to find those gems is to persist, to wipe away the grime and dirt of the surface material and look beyond it. Its this ability to see beyond what you know that will help you reap the rewards that are definitely there to be had. The existence of bands like Altar of Plagues proves this. It doesn't suggest it, it PROVES it. Recently, I covered another band who's material in important to the positive development of the scene - Potentiam, an Icelandic band who have been circulating the underground, unnoticed, for many years. Their style isn't conventional, much like Altar of Plagues isn't, but its undoubtedly the type of style that will carry the genre forward, into the new millennium and beyond. Bands like this don't get the recognition they deserve, though there is still time and with more coverage, the acceptance of the fact that not only good black metal does still exist, but EXCEPTIONAL black metal still exists and its coming from the most unlikely places. No disrespect to Ireland, but if these Irish lads can do it, why can't the central Europeans and other various continental groups produce the same sort of mesmerising black metal music? Think about it. The answer is that they already do. That's right.
When it comes down to it, the simple fact of the matter is - black metal still reigns supreme and hasn't died out. 2009's `White Tomb', the debut of this Irish black metal band is proof if you ever needed it. However, there are so concerning points that I do wish to draw your attention to. First, this record is experimental. Not only does it confront the constraints of the black metal genre and its fans, but it deals with intertwining elements from other genres, like ambient, doom and so on. This record isn't simply a black metal record, its about more than that. Second, the olden days are long and gone. Like the sun of some distant planet, it descended and never came back up again. Life as we know it doesn't just stop existing, it lives on in the underground where new methods of living are forged. Altar of Plagues are standing up in the face of adversary and being accounted for. This style of black metal, as noted, incorporates experimental themes so this record will undoubtedly be torn down once the band gains more recognition. Like bands such as Alcest, or Wolves In The Throne Room - it will be considered some arsehole's duty to tear down the records positivist nature in terms of its public opinion. It will be defecated on, but never destroyed. The sole of this record will march onwards and upwards. A few exaggerated words will not harm the mentality of this pivotal record, perhaps one of the most pivotal in the past decade.
The experimental factor: Altar of Plagues use differing genres to their advantage on `White Tomb'. The ambiance of the LLN is regrouped and remastered by this talented band in order to create an atmospheric as commanding of respect, but even more nostalgic and reflective. The two songs on this record have been split into four sections, the first being `Earth: i) As A Womb ii) As A Furnace' and the second song being `Through The Collapse: i) Watchers Restrained ii) Gentian Truth'. Its of my own opinion that sections I) and II) of the first song, as well as II) on the second song are the most important and finely structured. That doesn't mean to say that `Watchers Restrained' is lacking, it just isn't as perfect as the other three sections of the two songs. As confusing as that may sound, it isn't really important since the material the entire way through it worthy of more praise than criticism, even the constructive type. Altar of Plagues aren't typically fashioned, they allow bass a fair amount of room within the songs to play its part in putting across the divine emotional meanings behind the songs. The percussion is tight, fixating itself on low-key hi-hat and snare work, as well as the powerfully featured use of the double bass. All sections are brought together by the emotive screams of the vocalist. Even these are somewhat experimental in sound. Not typical rasps, but glorified screams of liberation (since the lyrical content fixates itself on oppression).
The backbone for the material however, is the guitars. J. O' Ceallaigh controls these, as well as the ever present synthetics, which adds a monumental difference to the soundscapes, causing them to sound empowered and full of passionate care and affection. A lot has gone into making this record, that is easy to see. Musicianship and song writing aren't woefully left behind like an athlete with no pace. The band sticks together, through thick and thin, through hell and high waters. Having come across a number of experimental black metal bands recently - Potentiam and Pensées Nocturnes, to name but a few - I am under the impression that Altar of Plagues definitely have the ability to establish a career as a leading driving force behind the experimental scene that divulges away from the preconceptions of the genre. Bands like this tend to explore with soundscapes, which `White Tomb' does as it fuses funeral doom's slow and ambient textures (`Watchers Restrained' has a particularly diverse funeral doom sound - with changes to vocals, guitars and drums) with black metals faster paced guitars and dooms atmospheric tendencies, like on `Watchers Restrained'. Typical features still work within the decorated halls of `White Tomb', but they're not as prominent. Tremolo bass leads, fast guitars riffs and double bass blasts are mixed within the promising experimentation on sparse occasions. This record does have the ability to be able to appeal to a wider audience than most black metal which, in an odd way, may cause its downfall. The so-called `posers' are likely to be found wanting and adoring this band. Having said that, at this moment in time, I love this band and I love this album. One of the best of 2009 so far.