AltarsThese are currently good times for death metal. The sinister churn of occult acts such as Necros Christos and Grave Miasma are sending shivers down people’s spines, the ultra-tech boys such as Origin strive for ever-faster ways of damaging their own fingers and old master such as Immolation and Gorguts continue to consolidate their legacies. To put it simply, the genre is in rude health and for me, this is exemplified by the quality of a record like ‘Paramnesia’.

Hailing from Australia, this trio forego the barbarity and savagery of their established countrymen such as Vomitor or Bestial Warlust and instead choose to lacerate eardrums with a deft blend of technical blasting, warped discordance and classic lurching atmospheres. It’s very well played indeed – drummer Alan Cadman shows real prowess and precision behind the kit whilst the twisted riffs of sole guitarist Lewis Fischer walk that delicate balance between technique and inspiration. Cale Schmidt handles both bass and vocals and keeps things finely anchored with some satisfying throaty roars. These chaps really know what they’re doing.

‘Paramnesia’ is a very dense record indeed. Opener ‘Mare’ packs more riffs into its four-minute duration than most bands do across an album yet crucially manages to maintain a sense of coherence. This is no wanky ‘riff heap’, an unending stream of disconnected ideas with little correlation to each other – rather, a palpable air of intent is maintained as the fretwork assails the listener with a barrage of disorientating savagery.

Altars demonstrate a great grasp of dynamics throughout the record also. ‘Khaz’ neh’ is a slower piece, echoing Morbid Angel’s more sludgy moments, yet never loses the underlying sense of progressiveness that defines their overall sound. ‘Solar Barge’ and ‘Descent (Paramnesia Part 1)’ meanwhile boast some searing passages of Voivodian dissonance that wouldn’t be out of place on a more recent Deathspell Omega album.

The crowning glory of the album is the 10 minute closer ‘Ouroborous (Paramnesia Part 3)’ – it’s almost like a ‘greatest hits’ package of all of Altars’ strengths, ebbing and flowing with menace, laced with venom and culminating in a triumphant final passage.

You couldn’t really ask for a whole lot more from a death metal record circa 2013. OK, so for me personally, the production could have been beefed up a few notches – crisp, clear and punchy, certainly, but it is rather dry and lacking in juicy low-end – but that’s nitpicking really. ‘Paramnesia’ (their debut, lest we forget) has clearly been a labour of love for its creators, resplendent with ideas and crafted with care. In my eyes, this has shotgunned Altars to amongst the best the Australian extreme metal scene has to offer and puts them in the ring with the aforementioned death metal heavyweights. Great stuff.

(8.5/10 Frank Allain)