Endinghent by Altarage

Release date: October 13, 2017
Label: Season of Mist Records

Altarage burst onto the worldwide stage last year with début album NIHL. A two-track demo entitled MMXV had surfaced the previous year to a lot of excitement, but it was with NIHL that the band really announced their presence throughout extreme music. Lavish critical acclaim was rightly deserved and the eagle-eyed bods at Season of Mist clearly figured this band was going to go on to even bigger, better and heavier things. So here, eighteen months later, we already have a second album, the catchy titled Endinghent.

The band are from Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain. Like a death metal Batushka, nothing else is known about them. The four-piece band have eschewed introducing members (not even that stylistic first letter everyone’s mad for at the moment!) and no other details have been released. Who knows, like Ghost Bath, they might even be deceiving us about where they’re from. Dressed all in black with hoods up and weird black cloak veil-esque drapery hanging in front of their faces, having a drink with the band post-set seems unlikely, both in terms of friendliness and practicality. Altarage, despite their anonymity, exude a cool you simply can’t buy or bottle. Why their look or song titles like ‘Fold Eksis’, ‘Orb Terrax’ and (from the previous album) ‘Vortex Pyramid’ give me a shiver down my spine, I can’t explain, but they do, and continue to do so.

 

Endinghent is a resounding success: a fantastic album and one that will be a favourite from the burgeoning amount of quality from death metal this year. But, and it pains me to write as this album is so, so good, it is no NIHL. It’s difficult to put a finger on it, as sometimes a feeling behind an album is so ephemeral, but NIHL had a certain filthy purity to it. Perhaps it’s wrapped up in “discovery” and the fact they had produced such a glorious, stunning, surprising, and utterly unique début. Either way, Endinghent just doesn’t manage to pack quite the same punch. It is an incredibly unfair comment, and as such really isn’t a critique at all, but this reviewer is simply trying to describe an ineffable opinion. After all, if these eight tracks were Altarage’s début foray, I would be raving about them. And so, without further ado, I will…

The first thing to truly note is that Altarage have ever-so-slightly slowed themselves down. NIHL felt like an incredibly compact beast. This, despite the fact that both albums have almost identical running lengths. The band seem to be unfurling their wings with tracks such as ‘Incessant Magma’ and ‘Weighteer’ both of which clock in around the six-minute mark. Both are humongous death metal tracks with enough heft to split a continent in half, but certainly the latter feels unnecessarily drawn out. The former knocked me off balance, as I had expected a short fire bolt to bring Endinghent alive, and instead had a seething, brutal, but surprisingly restrained opener. The ‘meat’ of the album as-it-were is incredible, and brings Altarage’s audience back to the captive murk of NIHL, which will be to the delight of all.

‘Spearheaderon’ sounds like how I imagine it feels to be digested, and then breaks down with a massive, simple, loud, catchy (?!) minute of insanity. What just happened? No time – ‘Cataclysmic Triada’ bullets the body with incessant assaults. Altarage are in a realm of their own when it comes to making things that really shouldn’t work, work for them. ‘Spearheaderon’s’ breakdown notwithstanding, perhaps one would like to sample the frantic, frenetic opening to fifth track ‘Rift’? It’s like Botch decided to reunite after having all been imprisoned together in a cell with only modern death metal on loop. What just happened? No matter, no time to reflect, ‘Orb Terrax’ swoops in to commit atrocities upon your mind. After ‘Weighteer’ fades out, Endinghent finishes off with ‘Barrier’, a track brimming with animosity that reaches further and further into the dark depths of some unknown sea, before it too begins to fade out without warning… What just happened?

Altarage are constantly inventive and have produced another album that proves that death metal is one of the most fertile breeding grounds in heavy music right now. After years of bands – despite being technically brilliant and producing excellent albums – producing music wholly recognisable as death metal, the new cream of the crop (of which Altarage are certainly a part), are blurring the lines as to the genres definition and what is possible under that title. Purists will cry; music fans should rejoice.

Endinghent is an excellent album, whose only true trouble is in any comparison to its predecessor. Otherwise, it is a sterling achievement and is no doubt set to help continue Altarage on their deserved upward trajectory. There are some real grooving, bellowing contemporary death metal classics on this album. Just take a listen to ‘Spearheaderon’ and try to argue. However, Endinghent is also an album with tiny weaknesses in its’ armour, but I feel it is to Altarage’s credit that they didn’t try to completely mimic NIHL. They have experimented further than they dared on their début, and much has worked. It was always likely small portions would not. I look forward to their third full-length, because if they can iron those creases out – learning how to make six plus minute tracks more vital in their sound – it will be a most fearsome prospect. For now, Endinghent is barbarous, callous dissonant and inhuman: an almost perfect death metal gospel, then.

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