By Jonathan Smith
Alongside their contemporaries Wolves In The Throne Room and A Storm of Light, Ireland’s Altar of Plagues sound and lyrics express a thematic discontent with human beings, their urban environment, and their relationship to nature. With the band’s notable lack of corpse paint and the absence of beloved horror show theatrics in its sound, White Tomb emerges as a debut that contributes to a growing subset within the wider black metal sub-genre. Vocalist J. O’ Ceallaigh is at times actually quite comprehensible despite his harsh shrieking, highlighting the presumed emphasis on what Altar of Plagues has to say amidst the apocalyptic tone of their music. The best the band has to offer on White Tomb is found on the first track, “Earth: As a Womb.” The minimalist guitars and ambient fill that greets the listener is hardly original, but work within a continuing tradition in metal. It’s hard not to feel energized when the blast-beats and power chords kick in. Things slow down at regular intervals, giving the album an occasional blackened doom flavor before another wave of noise comes crashing in. A major drawback is that the album never exceeds the expectations established by the first of its four tracks, and thus it feels as though many of White Tomb’s most exciting moments are found within the first twelve minutes. Overall, however, listening to Altar of Plagues’s exciting debut makes me all the more curious to see what comes next from the band.