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These guys from Denmark impressed really me when I first got a hold of their demo, The Shadow Era, a couple of years back. Since then it's been a sort of twisted love affair with the brand of doom that borders on epic sounding, though I'm not so sure that's a fair tag here. What is epic anymore, anyway? Selected fancy syntax aside, the newest full-length from Altar of Oblivion is called Grand Gesture of Defiance and it delivers a heavy-handed slap to the face. As with any good doom, you don't feel the sting right off, but you know you've been hit.
While not so much Black Sabbath or Candlemass, Altar of Oblivion taps the down-tempo keg with a strong strain of stoner-like traditional metal tunes that are as engrossing as anything you may have heard and then some. Vocalist Mik Mentor has a voice that powers perfectly over the heavy chords of “Where Darkness is Light”, but the real treat comes with his brief solo intro in “The Graveyard of Broken Dreams”, which causes you to pay even closer attention to the band's messages within half-hour-plus of music. This track lays down the drop-tune chords in such a prime fashion that it's difficult not to become entranced by the subtle keys cascading over the musical waves like a cunning and pregnant steam pocket - it's perfect!
While the beauty of that little foray into airy ardor slowly wears off, the underlying message of AoO rears its head in the guitar-driven “In the Shadow of the Gallows”, a virtual death-dance with everything that can possibly be both morose and uplifting in the span of a 12-bar blues progression. While I know I must be feeling something close to melancholy due to Mentor's tonal command, I am strangely uplifted as the music just energizes my senses like no other doom in recent memory. The wondrous “The Smoke-Filled Room” starts off so serenely and without pretense or poisoned passion that I closed my eyes and found a quiet center so peaceful and fulfilling that I could hardly believe my ears at this early hour of the morning; the ease of the arrangement and that wholly legitimate opening that called upon early Opeth and some Dreaming Neon Black-era Nevermore was so terrific that I hit the 'back' button a few times after my first initial listen through (It is an homage perfectly timed to end before base tribute became stale infringement). “Sentenced in Abesntia” leaves traditional doom briefly behind and goes for the traditional 'heavy metal' sound with solemn moments of audio destitution, and it's all carried to a capital “T” in the lungs of Mentor, a vocalist that more people should be discussing at length. When the CD reaches its climax with “Final Perfection” I feel a sense of loss and, interestingly enough, strength within such an otherwise sorrowed track. Mentor's impassioned effort here is the very stuff legendary singers are made of, and you should hear it and decide for yourself. In this writer's opinion it was the perfect ending to a terrific album.
Altar of Oblivion is one of those bands that you might accept as terrific and with open arms, all the while hoping it's not some random fluke that the band is that saturated with ideas and great chord assemblies. After 35-minutes of a literal spinning room of emotional breaks and currents throughout the collective, and a growing discography of similar greatness, there's no doubt that the love is properly placed.
(Originally written for www.metalpsalter.com)
Psychedelic tendencies and occult fixations have been trending so highly these last few years, through the metal subculture's obsessions with nostalgia and imagery (in many cases, to a time before one even existed in this world), that it tends to rub off in the music itself with more fashion than substance. Few places is this more evident than in the doom metal niche, where bands are so often competing with one another to sound the most like a Hammer horror film score, Master of Reality or Sabotage, like they were born in the 60s or 70s. Is it too much to ask for just a solid frickin' doom record once in awhile? Denmark's Altar of Oblivion have heard this question, and once again, answered it, with a firm and effusive sophomore of suffering and scoured melody.
This is not your usual bong-worshiping, hippie plaid parade here, but a band that adheres to the traditions of huge Euro doom that were wrought by the mighty Candlemass and Memento Mori, with a few infusions of American acts like Solitude Aeternus and St. Vitus. The guitars are fully metal, leaden chugging with a lot of Gothic gravity as they stride through sad melodies and mid-paced heavy/doom sequences that support the wavering, near operatic vocals of the front man. I was originally not the hugest proponent of Meister der Töne's inflection on their first record, Sinews of Anguish, but I grew accustomed to it to the extent that it has no ill effect on me here. He hasn't got the sheer power of a Messiah Marcolin, or the hazy range of Ozzy Osbourne, but he seems to have molded himself quite well into the funeral procession, and pulls off some fine atmospheric choruses in tracks like "Where Darkness is Light" and "Sentenced in Absentia" where he adds to the haunting sadness. In fact, I almost wish he'd play around in this range more often, since it seems a lot tighter than his lower notes, and really sails off against the thunder of the guitar and the synthesizer (though his deeper range works well in the solemn bridge of "Sentenced...").
Speaking of the keys, they're used unobtrusively and tastefully alongside the core instruments, acting more like a third guitar than getting straight in the listener's face. If I've got a simple complaint with the album, it's simply that the riffs are often too tried and true in execution, and the overall production might benefit from a more primal, potent atmosphere. Let the guitars breathe more of that raw cemetery air; here they feel too compact and dry. Add more sludge to the bass, let the drums shatter across the gloom infested backdrop. Grand Gesture of Defiance seems a bit too controlled. That aside, Altar of Oblivion has written another functional, consistent record here which gladly eschews the prevalent trends in the name of sincerity. I'd give it a slight edge beyond the debut, though they've got a ways to get yet before really crushing my emotions. Fans of early Solitude Aeternus, Lord Vicar, modern Candlemass (with Rob Lowe) and the like should certainly give this a spin.