Not completely convincing but feistily compelling Darkness Sustains the Silence, the debut album from Finnish metallers Altar of Betelgeuze is a proposition which has thoughts and emotions leaping all over the place in satisfaction and uncertainty. The eight track release makes an attention grabbing but puzzling initial encounter with successes and deficiencies almost roaring out their persuasions but given plenty of time and listens it slowly emerges as a release metal fans with a wide taste should investigate.
Released via Memento Mori Records as 2014 opened its eyes, Darkness Sustains the Silence is the successor to the band’s first release, the At The Shrine Of Light EP of 2012. Consisting of members current and former of Decaying and Sclerosistake, the 2010 formed Altar of Betelgeuze employs and infuses a plethora of styles and intrusive flavours into its creativity, so much so that there is not exactly a predominate distinct core sound to their music. Across its muscular body, the album blends doom and death metal and in many ways that is the base for their endeavour, but with thick tides of sludge and groove metal also making their suasions as well as classic metal and stoner rock. It is an ever evolving and testing incitement which challenges your preconceptions and the band’s own ability to merge it all and place the distinct flavours side by side. Determined attention reveals that for the main the band do succeed with a strong craft even if there are elements which just do not cut a potent presence against the stronger towering aspects of the release.
The album opens with the intro/instrumental Epitaph, a more than decent piece wrapped in a skilled melancholic embrace from guitars and bass. It does not give away much as to the rest of the album except proof of the impressive melodic skill which the band openly possesses. The track leads into A World Without End and immediately a wall of doom clad intensity smothers the ear, rhythms colliding with the ear drum and the guitars of Olli Suurmunne and Juho Kareoja casting sonic weaves which tempt and sear. The instant stand out element is the bass of Matias Nastolin, its voice and predation magnetic and its employer’s craft riveting as he goes on to prove across the whole release. Nastolin also provides the dark growling vocals which match the heavy intent of the music, his tones grizzled and malevolent, soaking every chugging riff and bass groan with venomous bile. The track stalks and lumbers across the senses sparking the imagination and appetite, especially when it picks up the pace midway and the bass swaggers with invention and tantalising enterprise around the now spoken vocals of Nastolin. It is a strong and thrilling start to the album and sets up expectations eagerly for the rest of the release.
The Spiral Of Decay opens with an emotively sculpted coaxing from guitars and bass, again to potent alluring effect. With the drums of Aleksi Olkkola the ignition for the song to expand and stretch its heavy rock flavouring, there is a less intensive pressure on the senses but with the dark growls a still intimidating one…that is until Suurmunne adds his clean vocals to the mix. I have heard people suggest he provides a poor offering to the album but it is hard to agree, his voice for a hard rock track is strong and expressive but it is the style of delivery which just does not fit the track and for the main the album. It is a shame as the guttural and dirty vocals are again thoroughly enjoyable but for personal tastes and thoughts this is where the merging of such varied and different flavours comes unstuck on the release, though admittedly the song is still an appealing and creative encounter.
There is no such issue with the next up Steamroller, easily the best track on the album. From fiery guitar flames and thunderous slow rhythmic slaps the song stalks the ears with a ravenous chugging and melodic devilry all within a sinew cage provided by Olkkola. Once more the bass finds a tone which seduces infectiously and with the cleaner delivery working well in the context of the song this time and a constant surface snarl covering all, the track is a riveting consumption of sludge/stoner invention. Whether the extreme difference in presence and style of this and say A World Without End works is debatable as being a positive for the album but individually it is a masterful and thrilling brute of an incitement.
The Middle Eastern kissed opening strains of Smoldering Clouds Above Orion ignites the imagination with ease which the again mouth-watering bass and guitar play runs with across the excellent heavy weight carnivorously vocalised predator of a song, whilst The Approaching Storm bursts upon the senses with cascading rhythms, lingering sonic scorching, and a voracious bass invention and sound which violates and seduces with irresistible craft. The classic metal like clean vocals again leave thoughts and emotions unsure, the track calling out for a bestial delivery throughout as shown as a must by the toxic return of the earlier vocal pestilence, but it is an impressive song overall and another compelling reason to check out the band.
The album finishes with firstly the death soaked Out Of Control which succeeds and suffers as its predecessor, and the seventeen minute title track. As masterful and enthralling as it is, and skilfully presented, the final track is just too long to earn the focus it deserves for its epic sonic narrative. By the tenth minute, and being a three minute provocation fan at heart it was a proud moment to last that long, thoughts do waver and hanker a return back to the start of the album as elements repeat and stretch at the final straight. All the same it is rich evidence of the ability and adventurous songwriting of the band, something which again makes Altar of Betelgeuze a deeply promising and captivating provocateur.
Darkness Sustains the Silence is not perfect by any means but it proves to be an adventure which more than earns the right to be given the fullest attention, and if the lesser issues are ironed out this could be a band to set standards still undiscovered by others.
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