So it begins, with a slow melodic movement with a majestic sorrow rising from the sparse instrumentation. The repetitive flow builds momentum and invites the listener further into the layers of harmonics, and the drums wisely hover in the background to delicately punctate the song without making to much out of it.
The self-titled album from Altaar contains two songs, a total of 35 minutes that coils like Satan’s serpents, and the album probably is one of the strongest releases this year in this genre.
Altaar originally started out as a one-man project in 2007, with mainman Andreas Tylden (Guitar, vocals/One Head One Tail) taking his recording gear to the Vår Frelsers graveyard in Oslo during the night. Since the first ‘Doedsoenske’ cassette was recorded and released in 2009, the project has evolved. The latest album musicians Sten Ole Toft (Electronics, guitar, piano/Faux Pas, Ryfylke), Espen Hangård (guitar, synth, vocals/KILLL, ex-Diskord, NoPlaceToHide), and Kennth Lamond (drums/Jr Ewing), and Didrik Telle (bass/Obliteration) contributes. Espen Hangård is also credited with the mixing, whereas Morten Øby handled the production, and Tom Kvålsvold/Strype Audio has done the mastering. And they even moved the recording session from the graveyard to a proper studio, Taakeheimen Lydrike Studio, Oslo – getting soft, in that sense.
Anyways, the song ‘Heil Mary’ from Altaar on the Fysisk Format sampler CD, released during summer 2012, presented more of an old-school/new-wave black metal approach with witching screams and an intentional lo-fi production. The album, due 26.02.13, is very different. The self-titled album is a step away from the graveyard shift / funeral moods of the early cassette EPs, and it all comes off as more open and less confined. But it’s still about the atmosphere. And they still do these 1000-ton riffs that’ll make your ears plead for mercy and cause your knees to involuntarily bend. The album also has these ambient segments that are as cheerful as funeral wakes – and in fact, slightly eerie in their simplicity. Sustained tones that linger like fading heartbeats, trembling on the verge of disharmony with distant thumps from afar like Death herself sluggishly knocking on your door to collect your life prematurely.
The cover art is just awesome. The detailed pencil drawing by Sverre Malling has this calm and serene creepiness to it. A scene from one of those dreams that you spend hours trying to shake off when you awake. It’s great to see bands putting effort in to the cover art, and going beyond the fuzzy pictures of barren forests and a spiky band logo plastered across. Hope to see more work from Malling in the time to come.
There are many ways of creating emotional responses and atmosphere in dark and heavy music. Altaar masters the skill of being sinister without spelling out in detail the horror and gore and the unfortunate fact that the planet Earth is getting clusterfucked for all eternity in every possible manner and that all hope is long gone. No, this is rather the art of setting the mood for realising exactly that. It’s the gentle talent of not spelling out letter by letter what you have on your heart.
One could argue that the mood and atmosphere set on this album is a natural part of the metal aesthetics, while the means Altaar employs for doing so belongs in musical traditions and genres outside the traditional metal toolbox. Well, yeah, there’s plenty of distorted and fuzzed-up guitar & bass, rasp and desperate vocals – but I’d say that the album spans musically way beyond the metal frame-of-reference as such. The musical references from 1960/1970-ies psychedelia blended with the heavier riffs forms the signature sound of Altaar – a musical landscape that likely to make one hell of a concert experience. Anyone who has seen Altaar live should be familiar with the visuals and stageprops. The work of Elias Mehrige (‘Begotten’, 1991) and Benjamin Christensen (‘Häxan’, 1922) fits perfectly to the uncomfortable emotional groove conjured by Altaar. This album still builds on that visual approach to the music.
I’m not quite sure what labels to throw at the band to explain the album. But I’ll try: Psychedelic funeral ritual doom with an authentic emotional vibe. Acid shoegazer nihilsm. Groovy apocalyptic nekroblues, or something – f**k, forget it, its not working – all the label-jerk-off aside: the new Altaar album really is the preferred soundtrack when taking acid and self-mutilating, and staring into gashing wounds that make you increasingly anaemic and indifferent. It is a decisive and artistically distinct album from a collective of musicians with different backgrounds that converge on this project. The production is rich and beautifully balanced, and the album grows from listen to listen. Two long songs that drift between states of heaviness and sinister shoegaze. 35 minutes that are likely to be on repeat for a while. I like it a lot.
In plain English: this is a substantial album that you really should check out. And the concerts are supposed to be awesome as well. Case closed.