Canadian band Altars Of Grief were born in 2013, basically as an extemporary project for Evan Paulson and his bandmates, and then they became the main band for all of them. If the debut full length already gave encouraging signs about the band’s potential and the following split with Nachtterror strengthened those impressions, it’s with the wonderful Iris that the guys from Saskatchewan literally explode, releasing what risks to be one of the best albums of this year. Altars Of Grief are not to be considered as a doom band in the purest sense of the word, since black influences come heavily on the scene at a rhythmic level, creating an alternation between rough and melodic moments made with great fluidity and, above all, always wrapped in a cloak of despair that hovers over the whole work (the emotional plane on which the album winds is that of Canto III by Eye Of Solitude, just to give a tangible example). Moreover, the concept on which Iris is based leaves no room for optimism, in an unravelling of lyrics that tell of illness, abandonment, death and religious disenchantment, becoming an integral and fundamental part of the album and not just a pretty ornament. The skill of the Canadian band lies precisely in its ability to synthesize the best of each different aspect of an artistic proposal with great attention to detail, also exhibiting the contribution in most of the songs of cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne, skilled with his instrument to provide that additional touch of decadence to an album that often flows angry, before dissolving in moments of poignant melancholy. Isolation inaugurates the work in the best way, proving to be a song of rare intensity in which we can already appreciate the excellent alternation between growl and clean vocals offered by the excellent and expressive Damian Smith, going to create a path of painful beauty, while Desolation is a sort of quintessential black doom, in its flow on frantic rhythms but always imbued with that painful feeling that is the dominant feature of the entire work. The title track changes register, starting with a progression that reminds of the best melodic death doom bands, but it’s a cue that is found especially at this juncture, because the double-drum bursts impetuously take over to create that load of unbearable emotional tension that is perfectly suited to a song in which the story finds its emotional climax, also evoked by a beautiful guitar line. This is the end of the initial triptych, made up of songs of a level that makes the rest of the album imperceptibly less effective, but, as I said, this is due to the beauty of those tracks, because Broken Hymns already makes it clear that the album will never fall below the threshold of excellence that Altars Of Grief, especially in the person of the main composer Evan Paulson, have patiently built over the years, putting their inspiration at the service of a varied sound but always marked by an intensity that can make the difference. They treasure their Canadian roots, and so in their sound we can find some references to their compatriots of a certain weight, such as the magnificent Woods Of Ypres, on a musical level, while Into Eternity of a dramatic album like The Incurable Tragedy, probably, have opened an important road in the construction of a concept terribly raw, for its expression of the dismay in front of the pain linked to the disease, the terror caused by the fear of death and the anguish resulting from all the unknowns of an “after” as much wished as feared. Iris enjoys an excellent production, which enhances both the dark tones and the more aggressive parts, and favours that amalgam between the musicians that is one of the secrets of the success of this work, not forgetting of course the alchemy of a band that creates the perfect work, something that happens only to a few during an entire career.
2018 – Hypnotic Dirge