Altar of Plagues Live at Tommy-Weisbecker-Haus, Berlin
All Photos by Laura Vanselow
We will not be bought for a reunion but will willingly share our music with the right people.
No reunion. No explanation. Just music.
On December 6, 2014, Altar of Plagues posted these words to Facebook. They referred to the band's plans to move forward and reject offers for money-hungry reunions. It had been over a year since the band announced their breakup.
Fast forward to March 28, 2015, on a drizzly night in Berlin. I found myself at Tommy-Weisbecker-Haus to witness Altar of Plagues with fellow Irish band Malthusian in tow.
Berlin's chilly air didn't creep into Tommyhaus that night. The long and skinny punk venue—a former anarchist squat house located on a well-developed stretch in the city's eclectic Kreuzberg district—was hot, steamy, and thick with smoke. It channeled vibes of the '90s, as people leaned on graffitied walls and mingled beneath signs boasting €1.50 beers.
How often do you hear about the rhythm section stealing the underground metal show? Absolutely never? Well, it actually happened.
Malthusian has been treasured in the European underground since the release of MMXXIII in 2013, but this show wasn't the best display of their obscure riffs and song structures. The vocals and guitars melted away at the hands of Johnny King, whose drumming was so fluid it almost felt out of place. Truthfully, I just wanted to hear the drumming alone.
Malthusian's already bassy riffs drowned in the murky air and poor acoustics of Tommyhaus. That, coupled with decreasing levels of oxygen in the room, left me feeling suffocated, with only the ping of King's drums pulling me back to sanity. By the ending chants of 18-minute-long "Hallucinogen," we all took a collective breath and came back to life again. Malthusian are soul-sucking, no doubt about it.
Altar of Plagues
Sound problems continued for Altar of Plagues—although the nature of the trio's music entranced us instead of weighed on us. The band opened with "Mills" and "God Alone." The industrial intro quickly plunged into a frenzy. With such long songs, Altar of Plagues did not let up for what seemed like an eternity
While the Berlin crowd was subdued (as it usually is), many nodded their heads along. Still, though, the most movement came from people swigging their beer.
King raged behind the kit, again. It's a pleasure to listen to drumwork that feels like art. Listening to death and black metal sometimes makes you lose touch with the creative and subtle aspects of drumming. Altar of Plagues' songwriting mastermind, James Kelly, is rather unassuming in the live setting—almost a mirror image of Dave Condon on the opposite side of the stage.
The craziest thing about the night was the lack of smartphones. I stood about three quarters of the way back, and not a single digital display blocked my view at any point during the show. That's the stuff of millennial miracles.
I admire Altar of Plagues for their mission and the music they create; that being said, the energy wasn't there in Tommyhaus tonight. Am I surprised by that? Yes. Was this show just another casualty of Berlin's seemingly lackluster metal crowds? According to Altar of Plagues, it'll be awhile until I have another chance to find that one out.
This post has been updated to reflect proper photography credit.