Altar of Plagues – Mammal

Unless you are into the black metal or post-rock scenes, there’s a good chance you may not have yet heard of this band from the rainy Irish isle. In 2009, a trio called Altar of Plagues released their debut album ‘White Tomb’, which has since gone on to become something of an underground classic for its startling atmosphere, textures and epic take on the black metal style. As can even be heard from each EP, Altar of Plagues continues to take their ambitious style of metal onward, constantly modifying, refining, and emphasizing aspects of their sound. As one would might have been led to believe anyway, Altar of Plague’s eagerly awaited sophomore record ‘Mammal’ takes the band another step in the right direction, finally pushing them to becoming one of the greatest acts the contemporary black or post- metal realms have to offer. While there is bound to be heated debate concerning whether or not this second album is any ‘better’ than the first, Altar of Plagues does give the impression that they seek to topple everything they have done in the past with ‘Mammal’, and while this might be argued by some, the band has found their first masterpiece with this one.

Like ‘White Tomb’, ‘Mammal’ is around fifty minutes long, broken into four long compositions, with a somewhat shorter third track. One can only assume that this similarity is intentional, and it seems as if the band seeks to right some wrongs they had with their first album. There is obviously a sense of continuity here where ‘White Tomb’ left off, but ‘Mammal’ is certainly more than some half-witting sequel. Instead, Altar of Plagues has taken many of the issues I had with their debut and touched them up, giving a more intentioned feel to each texture and sound. Also, the less abrasive post-rock and ambient passages here have been given more depth to them in terms of sound and timbre. Maybe the greatest improvement heard on ‘Mammal’ though is the production, which is still going to cross most people as being raw as hell, but there is an added vastness to the sound here that helps the instruments leap out of their shells. Of particular note, percussionist Johnny King really seems to have stepped up his game here, switching from jazzy cymbal worship to some of the most aggressive drum barrages I have ever heard, seemingly without any effort at all.

Ironically, the thing that seems to have experienced the least amount of development is the songwriting and compositions themselves. The style of Altar of Plagues is left fairly untouched, but that does not rob ‘Mammal’ of any power. The band plays an epic style of post-metal that generally relies on the systematic repetition and buildup of ideas, dynamic between abrasive black metal and post-rock, and interspersed sections of ambient noise. The music is kept within a very dark mood throughout, but it is never malefic in nature, rather instead a musical exploration of human woe. The balance between the band’s three big compositional elements (black metal, post-rock, soundscapes) is done in such a way that each gear of sound compliments the other as they shift. By the end of the record, there is the overbearing sense that these dark emotions have been unraveled and set on display. Suffice to say, there is no surprise why the music of Altar of Plagues has been described as a ‘soundtrack to the apocalypse’.

‘Mammal’ may not completely overshadow its predecessor in every way, but for the first time, I am getting the impression from the band that they have largely reached their potential as an act, as is evident from the equally moving moments of heaviness and lighter arrangement. With the runt of the litter here still being a relatively long eight minutes though, there’s plenty of indication that ‘Mammal’ is not an album that will instantly charm with certainty. Rather- much like a sunrise- the brilliance of Altar of Plagues shines clearly over time.


1. Neptune is Dead 18:44
2. Feather and Bone 11:42
3. When the Sun Drowns in the Ocean 8:18
4. All Life Converges to Some Center 13:15


* Dave Condon – Bass, Vocals
* Johnny King – Drums
* James O’Ceallaigh – Guitar, Vocals, Keyboards


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