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When The Stakes Are High No One Else Can Save Your Soul - 86%

CHAIRTHROWER, May 15th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Stormspell Records (Limited edition)

Classic heavy metal solo projects abound - from Hercules to Oath, I s'pose - but how often do actual "long-distance" tag-team duos spring up, as with the Pennsylvania sung and scribed Cloven Altar, its lithesome, sleek musicianship of which is casually imported over from slick Swedish session (ax) man Cederick Forsberg (of Blazon Stone & Rocka Rollas fame) with a similarly gutsy and fantastical dungeon-emerging drive and every-angle-covering jibe as a Fedexed, white and ceramic minted packet delivered on behalf of your nearest suburban IKEA? (Er, that was a rhetorical question, I think!)

Plainly put, I caught wind of a wraithlike yet cool 'tube interview with Dustin Umberger, the comprehensively assiduous front man as well as full-on lyricist, who genially divulged how he and our above-glorified trad metal journeyman split their respective hemispheric dues, with Mr. Altar shipping off variable insights, ideas and clues - any and all valuable lyrical/thematic/vocal input - to his Nordic handler mastermind bro, until thereafter, whence tremendously concise and beautifully woven final products emerge. Listening to the album, now, would've thought? Truly!!

(Note: I've never employed double exclams 'fore, so I must have my reasons, right?)

In any case, this is a quick n' cursory (r)overview of Cloven Altar's 2017 sophomore full-length, crammed to capacity in a most compact and roisterous, rough, ready and raw Night Demon meets Nitrovolt manner liable to compel instantaneous, not to mention rampantly greased, oh-so-judicious returns (crash helmet not included, unfortunately, so be extra careful when steering face first, with limbs windmilling, into a dark age stone mason mausoleum wall to the tune of an engagingly throttling opener in "Heart of the Beast" in addition to smartly dispatched and infectiously rollicking crown [of thorn] jewels "Streets of Rage" and "Blood Runs High" - these three immediately leap out at you with rancor, vigor, stupor, all "or-isms", nohow.

Diffidently, however, Enter the Night, cranial-ly crafted with a Harley-venting dirty wizard's maniacally rock(in') n' rollin' hurrah - with more than a few Pontarlier glasses of Escat or Verle knavishly quaffed down his knobbly, gnarled hatch - and limited to 300 CD copies under Californian class act Stormspell Records, is way grittier, in a cantankerous, pedal-to-the-metal roustabout sort of way than the wondrous and utterly sylphlike full-length debut (which, a year to the day almost, followed a rather crisp and edacious three-track EP, itself couching a since un-released, albeit jocose-as-fuck, bonus song gift surprise starting with the letter "P" - but that's for latter, I mean later!)

In full, unabashed confidence, 2015's Demon of the Night masterpiece is cut from a wholly different, silk(y) cloth which, while duly surpassing its mildly stillborn, fraternal and ghoulish - yet sufficiently all-access and accessible - twin, mystically conjures/evokes the illusion of listening to a competently seasoned band in action, or at the very least, a captivating whilst "on the verge-of-soaring-through-the[-public]-veil" trio...If anything, I've no objection bluntly placing it somewhere betwixt (bash me with a brass bell, already!) Züül's To the Frontlines, from 2012, and Knightmare's much more recent grandiloquent effusion Walk In The Fire (however , um, fire-walking...hell yeah!)

As a glaive loosening parting shot, the first proper Cloven Altar incarnation reminds me a lot of Ced's other kick-ass, epically-woven tenure, and hold, on Breitenhold - do check that out too, you won't regret it one bit! - ; the second, and here glazed upunce not-soft-in-the-ever-lovin'-slightest sophomore release, Entrez La Nuit (oui, oui!), a kindred putrid relic/(unclean)spirit along parallel exuberant lynes as Amulet or, yea, I sayeth it once more, fellow American Golden State mover and shaker Night Demon.

With that, parry and thrust!