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Altars – Ascetic Reflection

Ascetic Reflection
by Santiago Puyol at 10 October 2022, 3:14 PM

Released on July 8th 2022, “Ascetic Reflection” is Australian Death Metallers ALTARS’ second full-length, coming nine years after their full-length debut “Paramnesia”. Mixing influences of Prog, Doom and Black Metal into their brand of Death Metal, the band delivers a solid set of eight powerful tracks.

Honouring its title, “Slouching Towards Gomorrah” is a slow intro filled with ambience and bits of silence, slouching its way into the actual first song, “Perverse Entity”. A few noisy bits of guitar bending and a brief moment of growling is the heaviest it actually gets, before flowing perfectly into the relentless assault on the eardrums that it is the second track on the album. “Entity” is probably the closest to straight-forward Death Metal that the album gets, as the rest of the record wanders into complex, more expansive songwriting, mixing elements from multiple Extreme Metal genres into its Death Metal core.

A perfect example of ALTARS’ eclectic, creative songwriting is “Black Light Upon Us”, the album’s clear highlight. This track shifts between Doom-tingled slow passages and a barricade of blast beats, trading in some Black Metal flourishes even. The quieter pace it settles into at times makes for an interesting detour, and sitting in the middle section of the record it feels like a relief even when it does not give up the weighty, crushing heaviness even for a second. Alan Cadman kills it behind the drum kit, adding a sense of anxiety that pairs up marvellously with the shrieky, somewhat desperate vocals by Brendan Sloan. The final section even makes good use of studio trickery, a bit of a show-off moment on the production end of things.

Anhedonia” is another song that indulges into playful and clever writing, here borrowing some ideas from Prog Metal. A shift between 3/4 and 4/4 keeps things spicy underneath the brutal, heavy sound. The waltzing feel of the verses is particularly inspired as it covers everything with a peculiar veil of sinisterism. It makes the shift to 4/4 on the chorus and other sections feel quite off, increasing the menacing tone of the track. Slowing down the tempo towards the end of the song ramps up the uneasiness, making the listener feel as if everything is unravelling and falling apart around them.

Doing a tricky balancing act between the proggier, more experimental tendencies of ALTARS and their more straight-forward Death Metal sound, are “Luminous Jar” and “Ascetic Reflection”. Both let guitarist Lewis Fischer have some fun with memorable, catchy riffing, while Sloan and Cadman get to show-off with nasty bass grooves and wanky drumming respectively. The title track even captures a bit of the spirit, if not the sound, of OPETH at their tighter, more groove-oriented moments.

After another Prog-tingled multi-section track, the album ends on a quieter note with the instrumental “Inauspicious Prayer”. It works as a bit of a bookend together with “Slouching Towards Gomorrah” and it allows the band to indulge into some melodic bits.

Ascetic Reflection” makes the most of its modest, 40-minute runtime. In an era filled with excessive, neverending Prog-Death records or a row of short but formulaic 30-to-40 minutes long old school Death Metal albums, ALTARS feel like a breath of fresh air. Weaving together elements from different Metal subgenres with ease at the songwriting level, and resting on their skilful musicianship, ALTARS manage to keep things interesting and always heavy at the same time.

The production is another aspect that should be commended, especially when it comes to the drum sound, which is definitely cleaner and punchier than on other albums from this style (especially those on the brutal end), without crossing over into slick territory either (which sometimes happens on the more technical end), since the music demands a fair bit of rawness. Overall, a solid album that rewards an attentive listen!

Songwriting: 8
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 7
Production: 8

4 Star Rating

1. Slouching Towards Gomorrah
2. Perverse Entity
3. Luminous Jar
4. Black Light Upon Us
5. Ascetic Reflection
6. Anhedonia
7. Opening The Passage
8. Inauspicious Prayer
Brendan Sloan – Vocals, Bass, lead guitar on “Opening The Passage”
Lewis Fischer – Guitar, Soma Labs Ether on “Black Light Upon Us”, slide guitar on “Opening The Passage”, bowed cymbal and Soma Labs Dvina on “Inauspicious Prayer”
Alan Cadman – Drums, Percussion
Cale Schmidt – Guest vocals on “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”
Record Label: Everlasting Spew Records


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