A spot of stoner doom is the order of the day from Finland’s Altar of Betelgeuze, whose second album this is after “Darkness Sustains the Silence” from 2014.
This is pretty grainy stuff. Downtrodden riffs with death vocals never make for a happy scene. The constancy gives it a hymnal quality. Utterly heavy and crushing, I could see a comparison with While Heaven Wept. There’s a very old school feel about this. I thought that as I was listening to the darker than dark “Sledge of Stones” that this was something straight out of the 1970s. The unexpected tones of the bluesy clean vocalist calls up counterparts of the same era. Imperious and controlled doom end the track, and give way to the hypnotic drum beat of “No Return”. Guitars growl ominously. It’s unusual to hear clean vocals with doom but it works reasonably well as they have feeling. Growls appear and the track plods on with interesting developments. I really like the mix of moods and overall progression of “No Return”, at least until the last part when it seems as if Altar of Betelgeuze have decided that enough is enough and go for a bit of psychedelic retro stoner. This unbalanced it for me. I preferred being hypnotised to having everything thrown at me at once and for no reason.
“Among the Ruins” clunks on weightily with “New Dawn”. Heavy dawn might have been a more appropriate title. Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne’s vocals came to the front of my mind. Now it slows down into pure doom and rumbles on to its anonymous end. “Absence of Light” has more doom at its core but features post-metal and black metal slithers as it slides off in different directions, but whilst there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the constituent parts, it doesn’t really add up to anything beyond the self-evident gloomy landscape. Now where I was ok with the clean vocals matching the doom on “Sledge of Stones”, I found them overdone on “Advocates of Deception”. Doom and extravagance don’t go together. It’s not a bad track though as the doom-laden tones drag us through the mire, but in a progressive way. The title track, which concludes the album, benefits from a lighter tone, the brief injection of sound effects and a more ferocious passion in the inevitably deep and driving rhythm, which characterises this track. The growls hit us as the tension heightens, making me wonder where the power had gone over the somewhat weary preceding tracks. I had now reached the conclusion that I didn’t like the clean vocals, however expressive they were supposed to be, but I did like the energy of “Among the Ruins” and its dark progression, which suddenly had discovered variety and life in all its rich layers without compromising on the depth of sound structures.
This album harks back to past days in its style. “Among the Ruins” is honest but to be frank, I couldn’t get excited about this. With the exception of the title track and a few other bits at the start, it was too much hard work for a not especially pleasing or original output. Leaden heavy with a combination of vocal styles, it will be to the taste of some, but not me I’m afraid.
(6/10 Andrew Doherty)