The blending of esoteric or extreme metal sub-genre has surely proven worthy practice over the last several decades and those projects met with substantially higher regard tend to juxtapose one decidedly loud or fast style with quiet or slow moments. This provides a type of meta-experience, and vital dynamic, that has become the ‘loud-quiet-loud’ of underground metal’s most effective figures. Those who specialize in it’s harshest (but still palatable) logical extremes are often seen as innovative spectacle when they can pull together disparate styles in meaningful ways. Funeral doom and black metal, for a certain majority, offer the least limiting still-modern range of interpretation for many musicians. Santa Rosa, California irreligious portents of mankind’s deserved apocalypse Barren Altar express a serious swath of black metal interests conjoined with an experimental mélange of funeral doom, melodic death/doom and sludge metal aesthetics.
Formed and upheld by members of death metal projects *cough* Donkey Snatch and Incinerated Divinity these black/doom metal dabblers entered the fray in 2013 with a Bay Area sludge hiss and a suggestion of the jog of black metal peeking through. Their debut EP ‘A Monument to Endless Suffering’ didn’t yet feel like an invested project so much as it was an approximation of their intended sound. Their “Stations of the Heathen Cross” single in 2016 appears to have been the jumping off point for moving beyond their somewhat typical extreme sludge sound towards black metal. If they’d sounded like early Abstracter before, on ‘Entrenched in the Faults of the Earth’ Barren Altar reach for greater extremes, landing not far from the refined shores of Altars of Grief and the earlier melodic black/doom crossover of Woods of Ypres. The style is not entirely developed and the guitar work occasionally sounds flustered, but Barren Altar‘s debut is an admirable grasp towards fully invested distinction.
Steps beyond their peers and scene are not readily notable on the album’s opener “Nexus of Grief” which appears as a collision of atmospheric black metal and sludge metal that should feel familiar enough. The late 90’s Swede-esque snarl of the vocalist is particularly flat until boiling over into death/doom territory on “Call to the Waves”. This is the new strength and signature of Barren Altar, the 10+ minute stretches where the guitar work explores an post-black metal filtration of melodic death/doom and funeral doom in alternate turns. From this point ‘Entrenched in the Faults of the Earth’ finds greater footing with every minute it plays towards the end. I don’t intend for any review to involve a ‘track-by track’ but, there are four distinct movements/tracks on this release and “The Great Awakening of Death” is the melodramatic apex as it kicks from a groove worth of early Centinex or Unanimated towards the soured wanderings of death/doom era Katatonia that bleeds into their own blasting version of the style on “Delirium Vivens” that concludes with a strong melodic black metal gust at the end.
A debut is historically a test of concept viability, or display of taste, for a young band and in this case Barren Altar have actually arrived at viable expression. The project is definitely still pushing the limits of the tightrope walk between black metal, extreme doom metal mutations and post-sludge sounds but still for the sake of finding their signature. It is a journey of good taste overall and no less admirable for not entirely defining itself with variation on a theme. Any great lover of melodic extreme metal will find great meaty pockets of resonance in the guitar work that escapes un-cheesed and for my taste this is key with repeated listening and lasting appeal. How few and far between those moments are will likely have the biggest effect on your enjoyment of ‘Entrenched in the Faults of the Earth’. Whether they succumb to iteration or aggress upon new avenues I look forward to further releases from Barren Altar. In lieu of preview, you’re better off letting the album share its ups and downs from start to finish.
|Released||June 12, 2018|
|BUY/LISTEN on Barren Altar’s Bandcamp!||Follow Barren Altar on Facebook|
Withered vines still strangling. 3.5/5.0
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