Altar of Oblivion – Barren Grounds Review

Doomed Thursday continues…

One week ago today, it was the feel-good buzz of Beelzefuzz. The week before, the leveling debut from Wretch. And really, those are just two pieces of a greater puzzle revealing the truth that 2016 has been very kind to the doom dogs still left kicking about in the dark recesses of metal. Further illustration to that point:

SolsticeTo Sol a Thane [sample] Lord VicarGates of Flesh [sample] SubRosaFor This We Fought The Battle of Ages [sample] Church of MiseryAnd Then There Were None… [sample] The TempleForevermourn [sample] BlizaroCornucopia della Morte [sample] GoatessPurgatory Under New Management [sample] The Doomsday KingdomNever Machine [sample] SorcererThe Black [sample]

And still to come in 2016:

Northern CrownThe Others [sample] Cross VaultMiles to Take [sample] Cardinal WyrmCast Away Souls [sample]

Today, the focus turns to the more epic end of the spectrum occupied by bands such as Atlantean Kodex, Procession and DoomSword. Setting Denmark’s Altar of Oblivion a little further apart, however, is the fact that they’ve always managed to flash a touch more of that old-school gothic misery alongside their doomy gallop –– something that’s particularly paramount with the Barren Grounds EP, their first new material since 2012’s Grand Gesture of Defiance.

The warm, blanketing misery of withdrawal and an overall sense of beautiful, grim reclusiveness paints not only the stunning cover artwork here, but every corner of the music that spans this twenty minute trip as well. The somber and broken “State of Decay” sets the dark mood directly from the gate with pensive mellow measures lifted by smart (i.e. not overly flashy), melodic lead play, and it eventually tromps at a pretty brisk pace by the three minute mark. It is this song in particular that brings to mind a (now) classic period of the I Hate Records days that offered up a trifecta of releases that included Isole’s Throne of Void, Fall of the IdolsThe Womb of the Earth, and The Gates of Slumber’s Suffer No Guilt back in 2006. Walloping anguish tailor-made for days slowly turning colder.

If you’re already familiar with the band through any of their previous releases, the formula clearly hasn’t changed that much, but they’ve improved on their execution. The overall songwriting is stronger, and a more seamless flow between players allows ample opportunity for each of their strengths to shine. The succinct instrumental “Serenity,” with its grim flutes torn straight from the glades of Watership Down, is a beautifully doomed extension of the opener, and the title track has a crucial swagger and notably infectious chorus that will hook the listener long after the EP ends.

A clearer Sabbath immersion also benefits the band, not only in those bubbling, Geezered bass lines, but throughout the entirety of the ode to “Planet Caravan” that is the gloomy, mellow closer, “Lost.” Singer Mik Mentor even appears to apply the “Leslie speaker” trick to his voice at the song’s onset, but the effect is quickly dropped in favor of affording him a chance to showcase the fact that he’s made significant strides in terms of vocal range confidence over the course of the last four years.

One of the most indefatigable strengths of the EP lies in its ability to toss a line out to those left wondering “What the hell is up with [Band X]?” And in best case scenarios, they remind people that the band is alive & well AND continuing in a direction that will leave fans hungry for what might come next. That, my friends, is exactly what Barren Grounds accomplishes, so add this epic gem to your ever-expanding list if you’re hoping to make an already great year for doom even stronger.

Posted by Captain

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; Handsome & Interesting Man; Just get evil all the time.

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