Reviews

Altar of Plagues: 22 June 2012 – Dublin, Ireland

Photo Credits: Fran Geoghegan and Rachel Connolly

Ireland's premier proponents of post-black metal – Altar of Plagues, return to Dublin after a two year exile, more vicious and aphotic than ever before.

ZOM

Altar of Plagues + ZOM

City: Dublin, Ireland
Venue: The Pint
Date: 2012-22-06

Supposedly, the 22nd of June 2012, should be a summer's day in Dublin. Instead, the weather is reminiscent of the depths of winter. Constant downpours and a dreary, hopeless sky look down upon the city's peasants, who race around the city trying to find shelter. Over the past decade or so, the seasons have coalesced into one -- perhaps a sign of the beginning of the end? If so, Altar of Plagues provides the warning soundtrack to the end-times and all manic declarations of impending doom. In stark contrast to Altar of Plagues prophetic battery, tonight Dublin's largest music venue, The Croke Park, hosts pop morons Westlife, who celebrate the end of their talentless yet frighteningly successful careers. Playing to a mix of approximately 23,000 pre-pubescent teenagers and menopausal house-wives, this group of multi-millionaires (and one registered bankrupt) churn out uninspired covers of already popular songs, as well as songs that they paid people (who have some semblance of talent) to write for them.

Cut back to the meagre confines of the Pint. Onstage, three flickering candles sit on lengthy stands in front of a modest drum kit, awaiting the arrival of gutter-punks ZOM. Underground music fans have begun whispering their Fenriz approved name in darkened corners and copying their sold out, cassette only demo (pressed by the magisterial Invictus Productions), spreading their putrid disease. A morbid mutation of proto-death metal and rabid blackened-punk energy, tonight ZOM's apocalyptic raids go down a storm with the growing crowd, who stare straight into the abyss this trio create.

Cork band Brains are up next and have been constantly touring the circuit with no real growth, reason being: Brains have no identity. Mixing keyboard driven alternative rock, doom, murder ballads, stoner rock, and snippets of traditional Irish 'rebel' music, sometimes in one song, ultimately creates a confused set. There are moments of Clutch-style, doom-boogie that hit the mark, but until this band settles on a sound and stick to it, Brains will always sound like the musical equivalent of a random rock bar jukebox.

To Brains's credit they do put some light back into the room. However, Wreck of the Hesperus suck the life and energy out of the place with their opaque funeral doom that unfolds at an enervating pace. Celebrating the re-issue of their demos on compilation cassette, Wreck of the Hesperus surprisingly forego playing any material from last year's full length Light Rotting Out -- an album title that perfectly sums up the effect of their scabrous sound. Nevertheless, a disengaged and uninteresting stage performance takes away from the suffocating mood they create, thus confirming Wreck of the Hesperus works best on record, listened to in abject darkness.

Altar of Plagues do not suffer from such problems and are equally engaging on record as in a live environment. Their absence from the capital for a period of two years has the anticipation levels quite high tonight; indicative by the compacted crowd who have pushed closer to the front of the stage. On record Altar of Plagues exist as a three piece, live -- guitarist/vocalist James O'Ceallaigh, bassist/vocalist Dave Condon and drummer Johnny King are joined by guitarist Mick Flynn to assist them in fully realising their transcendent soundscapes, which have led to their description as the Irish equivalent of a certain band who assemble at the throne of wolves. Mortality and the degradation of society/environment are weighty lyrical themes that require a substantive musical base in order to deliver the desired impact and Altar of Plagues, over two full-lengths and three EPs, have managed to develop their sound to match the exploration of such subject matter.

Feedback swells and the incremental guitars of "Neptune is Dead", from the album Mammal, surrounds the room. A hi-hat rhythm provides a warning, as blast-beats and harsh screams cut through the Drudkh-like droning tremolo attack of the guitars before the first of many post-rock grooves take over. The band seems lost within each interchange, swaying through the transitions and making an 18-minute song pass by without any sense of drag, holding the attention of all. Their first full-length, White Tomb, is represented tonight by the elemental "Earth: I -- as a Womb" and "Earth: II -- as a Furnace", which reign down upon the crowd in album sequence. The movements between black metal and post-rock are slightly jarring on the White Tomb tracks. Nonetheless, the vocals are more vicious than on record, especially when the tide resides on the melodic opening of "Earth: II -- as a Furnace", revealing Condon's acrid statement of "a once sacred room / more akin to a furnace", as the instrumentation ramps up the heat in The Pint.

The waves of post-rock produce a meditative effect on the crowd tonight, who respond emphatically to each hypnotic crescendo. However, the loudest response comes from the surprise airing of "The Titan Skies" off the Sol EP. Considerably shorter and relying solely upon the black metal aspect of the band's sound, this track proves that Altar of Plagues can rub shoulders with the blackest of the black without delving into the corpse-painted pageantry of their peers. The vocal interplay between Condon's blackened rasp and O'Ceallaigh's hardcore shout demonstrates the meeting of two worlds. Meanwhile, the subtle eerie melodies of the Negură Bunget-esque guitar lead that plays over the grinding riffs and blasts makes "The Titan Skies" a palpable highlight.

Altar of Plagues close with the colossal journey that is "Feather and Bone" (the second track of the night off Mammal), unexpectedly descending into an entirely improvised layer of tribal dual drumming between O'Ceallaigh and King that repeats its primal groove over screaming feedback, ending the night on a devastating high. The injustice that a band like Altar of Plagues, who write their own music and perform with passion and sincerity, and who can only summon a select crowd of like-minded individuals, is not lost on a night where 23,000 people celebrate the mediocrity of the mainstream. The underground will always provide the intellectual alternative and important bands such as Altar of Plagues will continue to spearhead the charge here in Ireland.

Alter of Plagues

Wreck of the Hesperus

ZOM

Setlist

1. Neptune is Dead

2. Earth: I -- as a Womb

3. Earth: II -- as a Furnace

4. The Titan Skies

5. Feather and Bone

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.