Album Review – Altars of Grief / Iris (2018)

Highly influenced by the desolate landscapes and the solitude of long, prairie winters, here comes one of the biggest names in Canadian Blackened Doom with a superb new album narrating a tragic story of a deeply flawed man and his dying daughter.

Formed in November 2013 in Regina, the capital city of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, Blackened Doom act Altars of Grief has worked over the years to develop a weighty concoction of Death Metal, Sludge Metal, Funeral Doom and Atmospheric Black Metal along with a strong focus on storytelling and the desire to convey authentic emotion, highly influenced by the desolate landscapes and the solitude of long, prairie winters that inspired the moniker of “Prairie Doom Metal”. After the release of their 2014 debut fill-length album This Shameful Burden, the band returns in full force with the bold and multi-layered Iris, narrating a tragic story of a deeply flawed man and his dying daughter, named Iris.

Featuring a stunning artwork by Travis Smith from Seempieces, brilliantly depicting Iris’ final moments as she kneels before the winter beset church and embraces her fate, and the mesmerizing cello by Raphael Weinroth-Browne (who by the way played cello for Canadian Folk/Melodic Black Metal band Thrawsunblat on their amazing 2016 opus Metachthonia), Iris is not just an album of heavy music, but an amalgamation of emotions that will transport your mind and soul to the desolation of the prairies. “The story of Iris is very much rooted in our prairie surroundings and deals with the struggles of addiction, sickness and religion. A father finds himself unable to connect with and care for his young daughter, Iris, who has fallen seriously ill. Spiraling deeper and deeper into his vices, and feeling rejected by Iris’ 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”, comments the band’s lead singer Damian Smith.

Melancholy and grief permeate the air in the opening track Isolation, a masterpiece of darkness led by the strident and somber guitars by Erik Labossiere and Evan Paulson, while Damian obscurely declaims the song’s lyrics through his anguished gnarls, proving why he’s a poet of the underworld. Hence, the music flows majestically until its grand finale, setting the tone for Desolation, where a Stygian atmosphere is suddenly joined by heavy-as-hell riffs and the crushing Black Metal beats by Zack Bellina, also presenting introspective and touching words (“I opened my eyes / To the night sky / The unending storm / Revealed itself before me / Weightless in my resolve / But, still a burden remains / With this final breath / Please, forgive me”). Moreover, it’s simply impressive how Altars of Grief can sound so distinct from one song to another, also bringing forth a perfect balance between harsh growls and deep clean vocals.

The title-track Iris brings forward more of the band’s enfolding musicality, blending the aggressiveness of Atmospheric Black Metal with the obscurity of Doom Metal, also presenting very subtle nuances of Melodic Black Metal. In addition, Erik and Evan once again fire a mix of rage and harmony through their flammable strings, enhancing the taste of this very complete and bold composition. Then we have Child of Light, where an epic and melancholic intro evolves into a full-bodied sound, and with Zack together with bassist Donny Pinay building a massive, atmospheric wall of sounds with their instruments, generating the perfect ambience for all vocal styles used by the band; followed by Broken Hymns, another captivating, neck-breaking tune where Raphael is truly outstanding with his cello, adding a marvelous touch of delicacy and melancholy to the overall musicality. In other words, this is a song tailored for closing your eyes and letting the band guide your mind and soul to their dark and mournful world.

And Altars of Grief personify the grievous, obscure voices of the bitterly cold winds of winter in the Atmospheric Black Metal extravaganza titled Voices of Winter, with Damian’s growls being delicately complemented by Raphael’s stunning cello sounds and the whimsical guitars by Erik and Evan, whereas in Becoming Intangible the sound of the cello and the acoustic guitars walk hand in hand in the smoothest way possible before morphing into contemporary extreme music, sounding very atmospheric, gripping and bold until its beyond piercing ending. Zack is once again a beast on drums, not to mention the latent poetry found in the song’s lyrics (“I can barely see the sun / I guess this path was truly flawed / Judgement comes with revelation / And, I’ve never felt so close to God”), flowing into one of the most beautiful outros in underground extreme music, titled Epilogue, performed by Raphael and his always astounding cello.

You can listen to Iris in its entirety on YouTube, follow Altars of Grief on Facebook, and purchase your copy of this masterpiece of the underworld from the band’s own BandCamp page, from the Hypnotic Dirge Records’ BandCamp or webstore in distinct bundles (Iris CD, Iris CD + Nachtterror / Altars of Grief – Of Ash and Dying Light vinyl split, Iris CD + shirt + patch, and Iris CD + Nachtterror / Altars of Grief vinyl split + shirt + patch), as well as from iTunes or from Amazon. If you were not familiar with “Prairie Doom Metal” before listening to Iris, now you have a very good reason to get to know more about such distinct sub-genre of extreme music. But if Altars of Grief are already a recurrent part of your playlist, the emotional story told in Iris will simply make you even more addicted to their desolate and imposing sounds.

Best moments of the album: Isolation, Iris and Broken Hymns.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2018 Hypnotic Dirge Records

Track listing
1. Isolation 9:19
2. Desolation 6:15
3. Iris 6:20
4. Child of Light 7:02
5. Broken Hymns 8:11
6. Voices of Winter 7:26
7. Becoming Intangible 9:17
8. Epilogue 2:05

Band members
Damian Smith – vocals
Erik Labossiere – guitars, vocals
Evan Paulson – guitars, vocals, programming
Donny Pinay – bass, vocals
Zack Bellina – drums, vocals on “Broken Hymns”

Guest musician
Raphael Weinroth-Browne – cello on “Isolation”, “Child of Light”, “Broken Hymns”, “Voices of Winter” and “Becoming Intangible”, all instruments on “Epilogue”

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Album Review – Motograter / Desolation (2017)

Get “motograted” by the thrilling fusion of Alternative Metal and Hard Rock blasted by this tenacious American outfit.

Do you know what a “motograter” is? If you’re familiar with the fusion of Alternative Metal, Heavy Metal and Hard Rock crafted by a relentless American squad known as Motograter, you already known that the “motograter” is a homemade musical instrument designed with industrial cable and guitar pieces that creates a unique bass sound, and by that you can imagine how thunderous their music sounds. Formed in 1995 in Santa Barbara, California, United States, the band (which by the way displays a tribal style body paint for their live concerts) has suffered considerable lineup changes and a few split-ups since their inception, but that didn’t stop the band from keeping on rocking, being reunited once again a few years ago and releasing this year their second full-length album after their 2003 debut self-titled release (featuring Ivan Moody from Five Finger Death Punch on vocals), the hard and heavy Desolation, now with James Legion (Deadform, The Breathing Process) on the vocal duties.

As aforementioned, the reinvigorated Motograter, comprised of the talented James Legion on vocals, Matthew “Nuke” Nunes and Jesse Stamper on guitars, Mylon Guy on bass, Noah “Shark” Robertson on drums and Dustin “Skunk” Anderson on the motograter, will hit you in the face with a feast of alternative and metallic sounds found in their new album, with the artwork designed by Mister-Sam Shearon (who has already worked with renowned bands such as Iron Maiden, Ministry, Rob Zombie and Rammstein, among several others, and also created covers for comic books and graphic novels including Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, Judge Dredd and The X-Files) effectively representing the energy and aggressiveness you’ll find throughout the entire album. With that said, are you ready to be “motograted” by this insane metal tribe?

You’ll experience modernity and electricity flowing from the very first second of the opening track Parasite, where Mylon, Noah and Dustin provide their welcome card in the form of thunderous and vibrant background sounds, giving all the necessary support for James to thrive with his vocals in an awesome blend of Hard Rock with Alternative and Nu Metal. Gripping guitar lines kick off another born-to-be-a-hit composition by Motograter, titled Dorian, with Matthew and Jesse slashing our ears with their riffs while Noah keeps the musicality as heavy as it can be with his pounding drums, not to mention the song’s completely addictive chorus that won’t leave your head for a few weeks; and their galvanized, rumbling sounds continue to permeate the atmosphere in Victim, another great sample of their contemporary Alternative Metal led by the ominous vocals by James.

In the excellent Paragon it becomes clear that those American metallers will never get tired of piercing our brains with their rumbling tones and roars, with the motograter going along really well with the song’s guitar riffs and the potent voice by James, being perfect for banging our heads nonstop together with the band due to its modern and thrilling rhythm. Slowing down a bit and sounding less metallic, Bleeding Through is a semi-ballad by this skillful sextet recommended for some radio play, albeit not as dynamic and fun as the rest of the album, followed by Misanthropical, which despite feeling like it’s going to be another ballad, it slowly morphs into an obscure metal chant with the motograter shaking the foundations of the earth, while the infernal duo Noah and Mylon continue to set fire to the music, and with the song’s guttural vocals adding some good amount of fury to the overall result. Daggers keeps the album at a great level of intricacy and stamina in an interesting mix of what’s almost a dark ballad with the heavier sounds of Alternative Metal, with Mathew and Jesse being fantastic on guitars, delivering both smoother and more electrified riffs during the whole song.

The last part of the album begins with Portrait of Decay, a hybrid of the more visceral music by Slipknot with the melody found in bands such as Alter Bridge, therefore becoming another strong candidate to become a radio favorite due to its catchy pace and vocals. Locust sounds and feels more aggressive than most of the album’s previous tracks, with Noah smashing his drums flawlessly while Mylon and Dustin make sure the music remains vibrant at all times (and let’s not forget about its harsh growls, one of the main ingredients that make this tune so amazing). Rise (There Will Be Blood), the second to last tune in Desolation, is one of those songs to jump up and down with the band during their live performances, bringing elements of more alternative bands like Linkin Park to their already potent sonority, followed by Shadows, a decent dark ballad that’s slightly below what Motograter can offer us despite the great job done by James on vocals. It’s still very enjoyable, though, especially if you’re into modern metal ballads.

In case you feel you’re more than ready to be “motograted” by Motograter, simply follow them on Facebook and listen to their music on YouTube or on Spotify. And if Desolation brings forward all you enjoy in modern metal music, you can buy your copy at the EMP Label Group webstore as a regular CD or as a CD + t-shirt bundle, as well as on iTunes, on Amazon or at Discogs. Not only Desolation has all elements needed to be a must-have album for admirers of contemporary Alternative Metal, but above all it will definitely help Motograter in solidifying their path in heavy music, and let’s hope the band’s lineup is finally stabilized once and for all and that they keep delivering high-end albums like this one for many years to come.

Best moments of the album: Parasite, Dorian, Paragon and Locust.

Worst moments of the album: Bleeding Through and Shadows.

Released in 2017 EMP Label Group

Track listing
1. Parasite 3:46
2. Dorian 3:46
3. Victim 3:30
4. Paragon 4:03
5. Bleeding Through 3:28
6. Misanthropical 3:41
7. Daggers 4:21
8. Portrait of Decay 3:35
9. Locust 3:42
10. Rise (There Will Be Blood) 3:40
11. Shadows 3:18

Band members
James Legion – vocals
Matthew “Nuke” Nunes – guitar
Jesse Stamper – guitar
Mylon Guy – bass
Noah “Shark” Robertson – drums
Dustin “Skunk” Anderson – motograter

Guest musicians
Aleksi Oksa – samples
Justin Fowler, Ahrue Luster & Jon Berrier – additional samples