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 – Thrawsunblat / Metachthonia (2016)

Welcome to Metachthonia, the electric and modern world crafted by an amazing Folk and Melodic Black Metal band from Canada.

Rating4

CDI101_1P_insert.epsMetachthonia:
(meh-tah-KTHOH-nee-ah) n. [< A.Grk meta- ‘after’ + chthoni- (stem of chthon ‘earth’ + -ios adj. suffix) + -a;]
1. the epoch after the age of the earth; this current electric age.

Dear metalheads from all over the world, welcome to Metachthonia, the brand new concept album by Canadian Folk/Melodic Black Metal act Thrawsunblat. Metachthonia is ancient Greek for “the age after that of the Earth”, referring to today’s modern world where we find ourselves under fluorescent light more often than sunlight, and so yearn for the natural world. Firing a unique blend of Folk and Black Metal inspired by bands such as Amon Amarth, Borknagar and Ensiferum, being even labeled as “Folkened Black Metal”, this extremely talented band from the city of Fredericton, the capital of the province of New Brunswick, puts no limits to their creations, offering the listener an eccentric and fresh version of extreme music that will captivate you from start to finish.

Formed in 2009 by multi-instrumentalist Joel Violette (ex-guitarist for Woods of Ypres) as a side project together with David Gold, the lead singer and drummer for Woods of Ypres, and having released their debut album named Canada 2010 that same year, Thrawsunblat became Joel’s main band following David’s tragic death in December 2011 as a result of an automobile accident. In 2013, the band released their second album, entitled Thrawsunblat II: Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings, already featuring Brendan Hayter on bass and Rae Amitay on drums, as well as fiddler Jeff Mott (and obviously Joel), presenting a more complex side of their music. Now in Metachthonia (which by the way has each one of its songs divided in three parts as you can see HERE), not only Jeff and his fiddle were replaced by cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne, but the band also decided to venture through darker paths, sounding more blackened than before and, therefore, more intense and thrilling.

The 11-minute hymn Fires That Light the Earth is a beautiful start to the album. Although the strong sound of the cello is very captivating, it’s when the music explodes into the “Folkened Black Metal” proposed by the band, with Rae setting fire to the music with his bestial beats while Joel is anger incarnate, that the journey truly takes off. In addition, the clean vocals add epicness to the musicality, with the guitar lines by Joel and the bass lines by Brendan creating an ocean of sounds and vibrations. When the smoother and more melodic She Who Names the Stars begins, Joel and his crew are waiting for the listener at Metachtonia with arms wide open (“All you, welcome to Metachthonia. / It’s like the rustle of leaf to ground against the industrial sound. / All you, welcome to Metachthonia. / It’s like the sun on your skin while the diodes draw you in.”), with the cello by Raphael providing a good balance with Rae’s furious drumming. The music flows flawlessly throughout the almost ten minutes of the song, arising all types of emotions until its harmonious ending.

thrawsunblat logoIn Dead of Winter, a short choir-like intro morphs into sheer madness, a Blackened Folk Metal feast where Joel and Rae steal the spotlight with their awesome harsh growls/clean vocals alternation and infernal beats, respectively. It’s interesting how they prepare the listener for the sudden eruptions of Extreme Metal, with acoustic folk sounds bursting into an avalanche of blackened music. Hypochthonic Remnants is more violent and visceral than all previous tracks, mainly due to the thunderous guitar lines by Joel, enhanced by the song’s endless progressiveness and the hints of traditional Heavy Metal and even Power Metal added to its main riff. Furthermore, its second part is a solid blend of the Folk Metal by Ensiferum with the darkened sonority of Borknagar and Old Man’s Child, which then flows into an melancholic acoustic ending.

Tribal drums ignite another obscure voyage of progressive folk music named Rivers of Underthought, the least violent of all songs where the unique sound of the cello by Raphael yet again adds a lot of beauty to the overall result. It’s a lot more inclined to the harmony of Folk and Pagan Metal than to the savagery of Extreme Metal, all embraced by a strong progressive ambience during the song’s almost nine minutes. And finally, In Mist We Walk kicks off in devastation mode, with the sound of the guitar by Joel together with the galloping bass lines by Brendan not leaving a single space empty in the music. Its second piece is pure high-octane Pagan Metal with atmospheric and acoustic passages, whereas its third part is made for enjoying the excellence of its lyrics (“I walk the banks of the stream of electric thought. / I cross to the warmth of where I once was. / I look down to see a sixfold flame in hand. / Sing me the dark songs of Chthonia. / Sing life immense in passion and pulse.”).

The fantastic concept of Metachthonia can be explored in more detail at the band’s official Facebook page, and if you want to provide your full support to such a distinct band you can purchase the album (which can be relished in its entirety HERE) at their BandCamp page. The electric and modern world of Metachthonia presented by Thrawsunblat might seem really dangerous at times, but we must admit it’s a lot easier to face any type of challenge or fear when the music behind it is as awesome as what’s found in this classy  and multilayered album.

Best moments of the album: Fires That Light the Earth and Dead of Winter.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2016 Ignifera Records/Broken Limbs

Track listing
1. Fires That Light the Earth 11:01
2. She Who Names the Stars 9:33
3. Dead of Winter 9:50
4. Hypochthonic Remnants 8:32
5. Rivers of Underthought 8:56
6. In Mist We Walk 11:56

Band members
Joel Violette – vocals, guitars
Brendan Hayter – bass
Raphael Weinroth-Browne – cello
Rae Amitay – drums, additional vocals on “Dead of Winter”