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Altar of Betelgeuze - Among the Ruins Award winner

Altar of Betelgeuze
Among the Ruins
by Anna Chase at 31 May 2017, 4:51 PM

Thank God for Finland. They’re a Heavy Metal powerhouse, after all, they’ve cranked out CHILDREN OF BODOM, BEHERIT, and IMPALED NAZARENE among others. The country’s newest prodigy is ALTAR OF BETELGEUZE. A group that takes pride in their unique blend of Stoner, Doom, and Death Metal. They formed in 2010, and since then have produced an EP in 2012 and a full-length album in 2014. When “Among the Ruins” was released in 2017, the band promised it was their best yet. Forming an opinion based solely on their song length and self-description, I was expecting to hear a mix of slow, grinding riffs and the technical precision of Death Metal, kind of like a lovechild of SLEEP and CANDLEMASS. When it’s done well, Stoner Death Metal can be absolutely mind blowing. That being said, it’s not easy to do. Combining languid beats with the manic mechanical guitar of Death Metal is a nearly impossible task, and I was excited to see how ALTAR OF BETELGEUZE managed it.

The opening song, “The Offering”, tore into my ears with a distorted, gravelly guitar riff and thumping drums. I adored the rhythm in this song: the chugging background guitar combined with the sparkling lead riff was magical. When Nastolin’s vocals kicked in, they just brought the track to perfection. His voice is deep, sinister, and almost demonic; therefore, it fits flawlessly into the slow, grinding Death Metal tone of this song. The solo sounded slightly more like Stoner Metal. It was rippling, relaxed, and a perfect juxtaposition to the rest of the track. “Sledge of Stones” opened with an isolation of the bass and guitar, which repeated the same riff (which was clearly influenced by Doom Metal). In this track, Suurmunne’s clean vocals came as a shock and a definite change from the tone of the first track. The use of the clean vocals was a shift away from Death Metal and kind of gave the song a Stoner Metal/Blues Rock vibe. While I kind of was wishing for a bit less repetition in the background riff, the song as a whole was very rhythmic, catchy, and showcased the variety of talent that ALTAR OF BETELGEUZE has, especially in the vocals department.

“No Return” begins with a melancholy, dragging riff that’s reminiscent of classic DSBM (i.e. AUSTERE and THY LIGHT) which is propelled along by a steady drum beat and liberal use of cymbals. The vocals show real passion and emotion here, going from an eerie low chanting to clean singing and then to gutturals. The guitar solo is resonant and electrifying, and while not particularly simple, the style works in this particular song. The sound of the slightly distorted guitar combined with the chugging bass is clearly Doom Metal-inspired, and while I’m not usually a fan of songs that are drawn out to 8:25, this piece managed to hold my attention for the whole time and left me wanting more. In “New Dawn”, I definitely got déja vú. I felt like I was listening to an unreleased CANDLEMASS track. These guys are pros at creating spot-on Doom Metal riffs and have perfected the art of balancing all their instruments into one well-oiled machine. What distinguishes them from the other Doom Metal bands, however, is their unique style of vocals. Suurmunne’s voice sounds more suited to Hard Rock, while Nastolin’s is quite obviously a match for Death Metal. However, the unexpected use of both singers makes the band stand out while still keeping their integrity as a Stoner and Doom Metal act.

“Absence of Light” is hauntingly beautiful. Starting off with an echoing almost acoustic-sounding guitar riff, the raw sound of the drums highlight the other instruments as the track rips into a distorted, heavy Doom Metal piece. This song showcases the band’s versatility and creativity, as well as their musical talent. Nastolin is absolutely insane with the depth he achieves in his gutturals and the guitarists’ technical abilities are impressive. The rhythmic cut-outs in the guitar riffs keep the listener interested, and the other elements make this song a perfect blend of Death and Doom Metal, and one of my favorite tracks on the album. “Advocates of Deception” is undoubtedly one of the heaviest songs by ALTAR OF BETELGEUZE. The guitars are full of evil energy and distortion, and the rhythm here screams pure aggression. The percussive bass in the background adds depth and another level of complexity, while the drums bridge the gap and bring all the elements together. Given the brutality of this song, I was slightly shocked when Suurmunne’s clean vocals were used. However, I think the element of surprise works well here and the juxtaposition of his singing and the grinding ferocity of the guitar and bass creates an unexpected balance.

In the last song, “Among the Ruins”, down-tempo Doom riffs start things out at a leisurely pace. The drums are understated at first, until the distortion grinds into place and the guitars chug up to speed. The riffs in this track are catchy- something that’s difficult to achieve in Doom and Death Metal and throughout the entire 9 minutes and 46 seconds of this song, the band’s energy never lets up one bit. Both clean vocals and gutturals are used intermittently in this piece, and impressively both styles work interchangeably with the rest of the instruments. Overall, I was extremely impressed with ALTAR OF BETELGEUZE and the hard work and talent they poured into this album. The group is technically and musically advanced, and I can hear the passion they have for creating something great. I’ve never been a huge Stoner or Doom Metal fan, but after hearing the magic they worked with “Among the Ruins” I might just have to become one, and I recommend that you do too.

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

5 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. The Offering
2. Sledge of Stones
3. No Return
4. New Dawn
5. Absence of Light
6. Advocates of Deception
7. Among the Ruins
Lineup:
Matias Nastolin - Bass, Gutturals
Olli "Otu" Suurmunne - Guitar, Clean Vocals
Juho Kareoja - Guitar
Aleksi Oikkola - Drums 
Record Label: Transcending Obscurity Records
     


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