I do love the place name Saskatchewan and it is from that Canadian province that Altars Of Grief call home as do their record label Hypnotic Dirge. There must be a healthy amount of misery in a place that image searches show as full of sunshine with all the doom coming out the area. But geography aside, we last heard of Altars Of Grief via their split release with Nachterror back in 2015 and the group stood up proudly with their offering and I was definitely up for exploring their latest platter of self-described ‘prairie doom.’ Here we have their second full-length album and just shy of an hour’s worth of music, the tracks are all fairly lengthy and there is plenty of substance here for the listener to journey with the group and soak up their deathly doom in the process. The cover art is far from sunny and that fog enshrouded church definitely looks ominous; let’s open the door and carefully venture in.
‘Isolation’ starts with solemn melody and there is a classical vibe about it as much as doom. One of the aspects of the album is the use of cello on some of the tracks and it works well with helping craft atmosphere as does the acoustic guitar here as things begin to open up. Vocals are incredibly varied here too and although Damian Smith is listed as the main contributor all 4 of the other band members are not averse to versing themselves. It’s an unhurried beginning, there are clean parts and angry snarls with plenty of melodicism at the heart of the music. I said this before and it strikes even more on the full album but the clean vocals do remind a fair bit of fellow Canadian David Gold (R.I.P) of Woods Of Ypres and they send a shiver right down the spine, it’s a bit like listening to a ghost and suitably tinged with sorrow. However the band are not all slow and moribund as ‘Desolation’ proves on romping into a full speed ahead doom, death gallop. The battering drums and savage snarls are a complete contrast to the opening part but the two styles complement each other perfectly. The doom isn’t solely in the music but the poetic lyrics are every bit as heartfelt too and give the likes of My Dying Bride a run for their misery. The title track has plenty of rage and is directed at a God who has been worshipped faithfully but let the worshipper down after he has “poured faith” into him and been rewarded by the death of a loved one. “My god! I’ll see the heavens burn! I’ll never forgive you for this!” The anger is enforced in the song itself, powerful stuff. I get the feel the Child Of Light’ corresponds with the album cover and anger turns to sorrow, cello helps that cause; going under the surface of the music is enough to bring a tear to the listeners eye too and the whole concept here develops brilliantly. Having said that it doesn’t make it particularly easy to listen to; have a box of tissues handy. One things for sure the band have the perfect name to go with the concept and have probably been leading up to telling this tale for some time; I just hope it is purely fictional.
The hymns here may well be broken but their renditions as the album develops are mighty and at full force there is no escaping their indignant calls and the emotive force in the music that goes with them. Winter is obviously a time of reflection and mourning, long and hard, the bitterness can be felt and the grief is painful but also somewhat beautifully reflected by acoustic parts and the tears flowing from the cello. As for the stories conclusion and yes I am going to leave it here; well it was never going to be a happy one.
Although you can just sit back and listen to this you would be missing an integral part and this is an album that demands proper consummation. The result is a powerful one and Altars Of Grief have really done something quite special here. Having completed it I hope they have found some semblance of peace as well as a sense of achievement. Iris certainly deserves to be heard.
(8/10 Pete Woods)