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Altars of Grief - Iris Award winner

Altars of Grief
Iris
by Dave "That Metal Guy" Campbell at 12 April 2018, 7:43 AM

Hailing from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, Blackened Doom/Death Metal band ALTARS OF GRIEF formed in 2013. The story behind the second full-length album “Iris,” is rooted in their prairie surroundings and deals with the struggles of addiction, sickness, and religion. A father finds himself unable to connect with and care for this young daughter, Iris, who has fallen seriously ill. Spiraling deeper and deeper into his vices, and feeling rejected by her new found and unwavering faith, he gets into his car and decides to leave her behind. Somewhere along the icy road, he loses control of his vehicle and perishes. His purgatory is to watch helplessly as Iris slowly succumbs to her illness without him. The album contains eight tracks.

“Isolation” sets a somber tone for what is to be an emotional and expressive tale. Graceful and majestic, the wistful clean vocals hover over a bed of creeping desolation, while the harsh vocals provide the bitterness and indignation. There is a frail beauty here in the depths of your soul that I have not heard as dramatic and eloquently in some time. From isolation…to desolation…moving you further down that path to death…“Desolation” is strikingly more aggressive. Agonizing harsh vocals reflect the despair and rage of watching something happen to someone you love and can do nothing about, and ultimately giving in to the hopelessness.

“Iris” talks about the main subject of the story, and the struggles of faith in the face of adversity. “My God! I’ll see the Heavens burn!” sums up the father’s sentiment quite well. The doleful music is enhanced by a rigorous vocal performance and some somber lead guitar notes that fall like tears down your cheek. Anger burns intensely, sweltering inside. “Child of Light” talks more about Iris and her faith, and the illuminated resolve of the father’s lack thereof. Beautiful clean guitars and strings open the song, leading to a lumbering exalted sound that digs deep into your soul. The passages alternate from here, attempting to twisting your heart but your will is stronger. Full personal dejection is the subject of “Broken Hymns.” “I stand now in the ashes of a world become a tomb…every thought another grave…interred with memories of you.” The music just keeps spiraling deeper and deeper into the void that has become his existence. Stirring but sharp, like a knife buried into your chest, the cold closes in around you and your eyes slowly fade. The clean vocals are tender but so very expressive, and this tale is moving in ways that are hard to fully describe.

“Voices of Winter” signals a culmination in the tragedy In many ways. Regret. A long and cold winter can subject you to absolute hopelessness. All you have is frozen landscapes and colors of grey. “A vision of pale limbs frozen forever…statuesque as you…a monument to failure.” The music is mind numbing, like a sickness spreading across the land that you have no immunity to, and you slowly wilt away to nothing. “Becoming Intangible” is literally the end of the story. In the end, he talks about judgement coming with revelation, and accepting God again. The ponderous sound and pace works best for me with clean vocals, which is how they are delivered here. His voice speaks to you as if it was inside of your own head. About half way through, the sound picks up, a final push to the finish. The vocals moan with anguish, and then some final somber footsteps.

The brief “Epilogue” that closes the story is a nice final touch. Funereal strings provide a final sad serenade and give you pause to consider the pilgrimage of the album as a whole. A good story can be a wonderful basis for an album to build around, and that is exactly what we have here in ALTAR OF GRIEF’s “Iris.” What they do so well is make the connections between what is on paper to how they compose and play the songs, and to how it connects with your emotions as a living person. If this album doesn’t completely move you on an impassioned level, you might want to check your pulse to see if you are still breathing. Marvelous!

Songwriting: 10
Originality: 9
Memorability: 10
Production: 9

5 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Isolation
2. Desolation
3. Iris
4. Child of Light
5. Broken Hymns
6. Voices of Winter
7. Becoming Intangible
8. Epilogue
Lineup:
Damian Smith – Vocals
Zack Bellina – Drums (2013-2017), Guitar, Vocals (2018)
Evan Paulson – Guitars, Vocals, Programming
Erik Labossiere – Guitar, Vocals
Donny Pinay – Bass, Vocals
Record Label: Hypnotic Dirge Records
     


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