ALTARS ABLAZE – Life Desecration (2022)REVIEW

The physics of falling bodies. — Taste is the first and most obviate point to hinge upon as we consider the intent versus reality of the artist’s work in gauge of success, a pleasantly grim reality wherein we must perturb the quick to grin, dolt-faced extreme metal debutant with sharpened selectivity. In this case the taste level is high and the contributions inspired with plentiful flow-reactive ideation(s) of blasphemic death metal and militant black metal yet we’ll have to forge our own idea of what “modernity” is and which dimensional continuum of extreme metal is real, and exclude what is patently false. ‘Life Desecration‘ is the product of Czechia-based quintet Altar Ablaze making blackened death metal the way they want to hear it, the way they’re not hearing it elsewhere, crafting their killing machinery to a high modern standard which does not erase away the old peaks of the past but… also does not worship old crumbling castles, nor pretend that borrowed ideas carry any sort of virtue through generations. Sidestepping the fairly lacking standards of the last however many years (~5-10) in hybrid black/death forms, most of which relied on dissonance and sound design to float, this album appears to task itself with returning black/death metal to its athletic potential within physical performances which dazzle the mind first and foremost. In their attempts to eclipse the greats as they see them, which seems to be the general idea, this veteran-level militia do succeed but, of course how much will depend upon how adeptly the listener interprets this specific language and whether or not they’d value precision over abstraction.

Altars Ablaze was formed by Tomáš Halama (Heaving Earth) after leaving technical death metal band Supreme Conception and I suppose that’d likely happened in recent years but prior to 2020 unless I’m way off. Anyhow, he’d pulled in musicians who he’d played with in earlier incarnations of his main group as well as some other side projects for this lineup and while I don’t know if most readers outside of Czechia will recognize names like Brutally Deceased, Elysium, Garbage Disposal, Feeble Minded, Despise, etc. but you’ll find brutality and/or precision as important aspects of each, fitting for the style which this project centers itself but not a ton of black metal/war metal alignment overall; Aiming to nuke the planet of low-level, scumming-ass black/death with a standout introductory performance we find a professional and polished first impression made within this ~31 minute LP. The molten dual guitar attack of Halama (Heaving Earth) and Frank Šerák (ex-Supreme Conception) will stand out first and foremost for most listeners thanks to their technical approach to composition, purposing their fleet actions as functionally exciting threads of modern black and death metal guitar techniques, ideas you won’t hear paired often nowadays as black/death becomes increasingly secular. We could certainly agree that their oeuvre occasionally expands and deletes as it sees fit from the basal fourth generation forms of Hate Eternal, Azarath, Centurian and Angelcorpse at face value but not when it comes time to pay attention to the guitar work itself, which also has shades of (early) Ulcerate and we find the band referencing the brutal, relentless rhythms of 1349 and Setherial in their turn-on-a-dime changes, making for a caustic but always weaving listening experience.

There is depth to glean beyond the surface but the first generalist conclusion we can reach is something along the lines of “black/death” primed for the riff obssessed brutalist, and what I mean is that this is a record which aims for precision performances with a deft hand whittling out feeling, unique rhythmic motions which follow an exciting thread as opposed to the typical ideation of “modern” black/death which includes heavy abstraction of forms, incomplete phrases, and heavy focus on artsy dissonance juiced rhythms. Now, I suppose as an extreme metal fan who has been listening to each side of the coin and their admixtures since the early-to-mid 90’s the first and most important qualifier for what can be considered “modern” with classical definitions decided-upon is zero separation between black metal sections and death metal sections, a full meld wherein neither appear as accoutrement. With this definition in mind Altars Ablaze succeeds in their greater dissolution of the ratio in-between but I don’t think that’ll matter as much as… well, fuck, the fact that they’ve got riffs shredding out all over this thing from the moment it sparks up. The intense rhythmic finesse and cruel brutality of the record will convince well enough on its own, and immediately and this should ultimately take precedence over their melting of the barriers between dark extreme metal forms.

“For the Lifeless Love of a Crucified Corpse” has to be one of the better song titles I’ve read all year and as an opener for an album which scorches earth for its duration we’re served the appropriate fire up front, a riff or three which escalates in intensifying waves ’til shifting gears mid-song. Though it may very well read as an exciting thread hammered through a freshly dynamic, atmospheric bent as the song completes its warp to my ear it reads as a bridging of classic brutality and modern presentation via its stunning dual guitar techniques which break apart the savagery of the riff-after-riff approach. These become more complex as the album progresses, and with far more rhythm section interaction elsewhere but we’re served a more elaborate vision of where the album will go as the more substantive statement of the title track (“Life Desecration”) fires off second. As we descend towards the mid-point of the album I suppose Altars Ablaze hits upon a few points which feel a bit standard in their straight forward expression but punish nonetheless, such as the very normal but still impressive burner “Shrine Destroyer” and the slight vernacular expansion of “Across the Empires of Death”. Here quick changes and sharply cut riffs begin to characterize the album in constant waves, condensing their attack without the atmospheric respite (which the record otherwise provides) for the sake of a central hotspot built. This allows the second half of the record differentiate, similar rhythmic feats which soon arrive in a variety of increasingly complex presentations.

I’d appreciated the building tension of the first four songs but the second half “breathes” a little bit more and stuck in mind a bit easier as a result. The album’s second single “Drenched in Wrath and Blood” sets its own scene, a steadiness which I’d almost compare to something like The Order of Apollyon (or, late 2000’s French black/death otherwise) if not for the more frantic pace and up front guitar voicing. I suppose the main reason to stop and admire the view is that Altars Ablaze have allowed it, taking a deep breath before the mayhem continues with the finger twisting guitar runs of “With Bone Crowns and Iron Scepters” take us right back into the action which generally matches the forceful yet enlightened ideal of the opening moments on ‘Life Desecration‘ while showcasing a heightened level of interplay, a more complex dynamic achieved with the rhythm section. The bass tone is “buried” for my taste, providing subterranean motion rather than percussive force which is still readable at proper volume, this allows the drums to cut through the major voice of the guitarists, which otherwise dominates the experience.

The suggested levels, the presence of the band depicted in motion, all work best when everyone is firing off at once in a mass of writhing riff but I’d begin to appreciate the slower parts of most pieces more at this point. The more atmospherically charged guts of the record, which is generally well-spread but emphasized between “With Bone Crowns and Iron Scepters” and “Beneath the Smouldering Ruins” highlights where this type of sound design fuses the parts of the machine yet allows for definition and at a point where the listener as likely decoded Altars Ablaze‘s musical language, now appreciating the ride and the fineries of each performance in hi-def. The album ends on a high point (“Glorification of Rats“) which still reflects the general progression of the full listen but is clearly stated as a grandiose and violent endpoint, an angrily splattered punctuation mark and reads as the right time to tie off their initial run and make a strong first impression. I’d eventually felt like they could’ve kept going with it for another song or two without completely pressing the average listener up against a wall but, only because they’d built up such momentum throughout.

As a debut in presentation of a unique, thoughtful take on a well-worn craft I’d found ‘Life Desecration‘ impressive, an above average production ready to impose its point of view upon the listener as any truly extreme metal record should. Repeat listening granted familiarity and pointed towards clear peaks to anticipate yet the work here is detailed and compacted enough that it’d lent itself to well to continuous exploration and a consistent shot of murderous energy. Even if it’d seem I’d heard everything black/death metal had to offer at some point before 2015 good taste and fine performances go a long way here in demanding my attention and pulling me back into the vortex on the regular, it felt like a rare event in that regard, actions from a unit with a mind of its own. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Life Desecration
LABEL(S):Lavadome Productions
RELEASE DATE:September 16th, 2022

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