Embracing something and paying homage to it is a respectable, worthwhile venture. But taking steps to stretch beyond the boundaries of the thing you love to make it more expansive, dramatic, and personal is the sign of understanding one’s surroundings and knowing how to make it a better place.
People have been playing doom for years. Sure, Black Sabbath always will be marked as the band that started it all, but if you delve into the blues and that bloody, murderous, heart-wrenching terrain, you’ll find more doom than you’ll know what to do with. Over the years so many other styles and ideas have moved into doom, from death to deathrock to psychedelics to black metal violence, that there are so many different ways to stretch this style of music that the possibilities truly are limitless.
Norway’s Altaar recognized just how much possibility was available on the doom landscape, so they decided to jump on that and create something that was their own, yet still very much in debt to doom and the many pioneers who came before them. The result is their two-movement, self-titled debut album released by Indie Recordings, and what you’ll hear will sound like what many other doom bands also have done, but presented in a way and played with a passion not every group pulls off this well. The entire package is moving and genuine, and while I’m not sure they’ve invented a new doom sub-sub-genre with this release, they have forcefully put themselves into the conversation as to who are some of the most promising new doom outfits. Altaar is one of them without question.
The cover of Altaar’s debut is a curious choice, and I mean that in a good way. Two hooded figures seemingly assembling a worm-infested heart will stick with you, even if that means it’ll gnaw away at your gut. It’s equally fascinating and disgusting, and it’ll look damn good on a T-shirt. Not sure that was the reasoning behind using this Sverre Malling piece, but it was an excellent pick. The band itself is comprised of guitarist/vocalist Andreas Tylden; guitarist/synth player/vocalist Espen T. Hangard; bassist Didrik Telle; drummer Kenneth Lamond; and guitarist/piano player/electronics handler Sten Ove Tofft, and the group members have a wide array of backgrounds in numerous extreme metal camps, and that, too, likely is why Altaar have such a varied and interesting take on doom metal.
Opener “Tidi Kjem Aldri Att” begins with a gentle psychedelic glaze and eventually turns into something that the modern version of Earth might conjure. The song goes mid-tempo and fluid, but eventually the doom curtains drop and things get downtuned and very ugly. Chilling melodies flow into the piece, and progressive doom spots arise that remind me a bit of Cult of Luna. The tempo and volume then begin to build back up again, hinting that it’s going to boiler over the top, and chugging guitars, noises that sound like air raid sirens, and swelling atmospherics begin shaking. Once the song hits its emotional climax, the band returns to a slower crunch, the piece begins to wind down, and a spacey drone pulls the whole thing into the dark.
The other side of the album, “Dei Absolutte Krav Og Den Absolutte Nade,” is a much different song. The cosmic fog that ends the first cut bleeds into this track as well, and the first three or four minutes of the song is simply noise building and simmering. Then guitars charge up, drums blast through the gates, and the intensity hits a new level is viciousness. Vocals finally erupt as vicious shrieks plaster your senses, drums come crashing down like boulders off a mountain, and the rest of the band whips things into a frenzy. Things continue to swell, and the catastrophe keeps picking up speed. What at one time was a psychedelic journey through doom’s most adventurous hills and valleys turns into a natural disaster that rips apart countries and makes seas rise and flood lands. It’s like being caught with no defenses in the middle of an unforgiving thunderstorm. Eventually the bloodletting begins to ease up, the fury subsides, and the song fades out in slurry guitar and smoke.
Altaar’s debut certainly is an intriguing one, and their approach to doom is something I imagine may change and shift over time. These two songs are enthralling and intense, and I’ve had no problem listening to them over and over again. They’re not totally retooling doom metal, but they are proving that with heart, soul, and imagination, you can make something worthwhile that’ll stick with you long after the record comes to an end.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/altaarnorway?ref=ts&fref=ts
To buy the album go here: https://itunes.apple.com/no/album/altaar/id605501224?l=nb
For more on the label, go here: http://www.indierecordings.net/