Altar of Plagues – Mammal
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Mammal is a perfect title. The album (Profound Lore/Candlelight, 2011) is warm-blooded, a deceptive predator. The more you listen, the more you realize that it doesn’t seek to render you numb, but rather to make you feel. It’s moving because it speaks to what makes us human.
There’s something daunting about albums with four songs. I remember when the longest songs in my collection were “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Warning”. In less than a year, several of the best metal albums (Grayceon and Salome) have songs that flirt with the 20-minute mark . I approach such length with the question: is this time earned? On Mammal, it is.
Altar of Plagues is frequently compared to Wolves in the Throne Room. There’s a palpable difference. Wolves compress every possible note into songs. It’s like running through a dense forest with brambles hitting your face. Mammal offers an opening in that forest. Altar of Plagues plays with space and depth, alternating between blastbeats, screams, and emotive sections on “Neptune Is Dead”. On “Feather and Bone”, simple riffs and staccato cymbals trade off with a Phil Spector-worthy wall of sound. “When the Sun Drowns in the Ocean” features the Irish vocal lament known called “keening”, traditionally associated with funerals and mourning.
Parts of Mammal remind me of the Washington, D.C. hardcore band Rites of Spring. There are differences: Rites wrote two-minute songs and are credited with creating the much-derided emo genre. Altar of Plagues plays with lush soundscapes, as if in ’60s Haight-Ashbury. But both bands have a vulnerability missing in so much modern music. They don’t deny the world but seek a way to live in it.
Many rewards await those willing to spend time with Mammal. Listening to it is like walking down an empty street with a friend after a blizzard. It looks like the end of the world, but there is an anchor.
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