By Jonathan Smith
Altar of Plagues‘ Teethed Glory and Injury sounds like it owes much more to the band’s experimental split with Year of No Light than it does their last full-length album, 2011’s Mammal. This latest release comes off as a transitional album, one that offers a promise of things to come as well as retaining an organic connection to the band’s previous efforts. I choose the word “organic” to describe Altar of Plagues’ recent approaches to both sound and song-writing because the aesthetic transitions heard here are not smooth. For all that they make sense musically, they often come off as rough, messy, and at times even underdeveloped. The result is an exciting record with fantastic moments which potentially bode very well for the future. It is also an album that, because of its transitional sound and rough edges, is for me difficult to love as unconditionally as I loved Mammal.
In sharp contrast to Mammal‘s atmospheric and epic black metal sound, Teethed Glory and Injury is composed of shorter songs and demonstrates a wider musical pallet. The first track,”Mills,” is a dissonant opener that brings to mind the sound of a band arriving on stage, plugging in their instruments, and preparing to strike those opening cords. When they do, one can hear echoes of fellow acts Year of No Light and even Nadja. However, this association abruptly ends with the jarring transition into “God Alone,” a song which sound like a more jagged version of the Altar of Plagues listeners have come to know. “A Body Shrouded” is almost psychedelic in its relaxed pace. “Burnt Year” features rhythmic, stomping drums that give way to a frenetic black metal progression that features James Kelly‘s most shrill vocal performance on the album. Then there is “A Remedy and A Fever,” a song which mostly serves as an extended transition from the former track into “Twelve Was Ruin,” which ends on a more familiar but ferocious black metal note. It is throughout these three tracks that listeners are treated to the frequent use of electronic and ambient elements. These additions really work and are hopefully developed by the band in later releases. “Scald Scar of Water” mixes all the elements heard so far, and is solid even though it lacks the unexpected characteristics of previous tracks. “Found, Oval and Final” harkens back to “God Alone”; its groove is punctuated by well-placed drums and sharp power chords. “Refection Pulse Remains” ends the album on a (relatively) upbeat-sounding note before shifting into one last burst of industrial noise.
If Teethed Glory and Injury has a central flaw, it is that the vignette-like nature of its individual songs and transitions means that it also lacks the cohesiveness of their previous full-lengths. It is thus much less of a smooth listen from start to finish. At the same time, the songs do not stand alone enough to be completely separated from the whole. Whatever greater metamorphosis Alar of Plagues’ sound is undergoing, it does not feel complete at this point. Nevertheless Teethed Glory and Injury remains a strong release for the present, as well as a sign of more possible transitions to come.