Altar Of Plagues

support Monarch
author AP date 29/02/12 venue Loppen, Copenhagen, DEN

There was extreme metal on offer in Copenhagen, too, on this cold leap day (our Jutland based writers were simultaneously checking out the Full of Hate tour in Århus, a review of which you can find here), and given my increasing interest in such things, I was of course to be found at Loppen to see it. Once again, however, I must offer some degree of bafflement at the fact that despite the show start being announced as 21:00, it takes nearly an hour an a half before the first band steps on stage. It ensures there is plenty of people to watch the supporting band as well, but given it's a weekday, it also ensures I must skip an hour of work the next day if I hope to be productive in any way.

Monarch

Prior to this gig, I've had no previous experience with Monarch, but the evening's headliner considered, I enter Loppen expecting them to play some form of atmospheric extreme metal. Quite right, these Frenchmen do indeed play extreme metal of the atmospheric kind, but slowed down to snail pace. Without knowing the specifications of the genre, I would wager that Monarch play funeral doom, spending several seconds between each beat and crafting their music out of single strummed powerchords, bass notes, and sampled/distorted screams and ghastly howls courtesy of front-woman Emilie Bresson. What they lack in musical energy, they fully compensate for by totally exerting themselves into each of these chords and notes, throwing their heads and instruments around in a display of ultra slow-motion headbanging. Still, despite the dark lightshow and non-existent banter - the band plays three or four lengthy songs without pause - Monarch never manage to elevate their music into something all-encompassing. Rather, the drudging velocity and indecipherable vocals - I cannot, for a certainty, say that there are any lyrics in Monarch's music - force me into a semi-bored lull. It could of course be that it is my lack of experience with this genre that is proving to be the biggest barrier to my enjoying Monarch's performance tonight, but even so there seems to be a certain it that Monarch don't have. Decent, if somewhat nondescript display.

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Altar Of Plagues

The Irish Altar of Plagues is also a band I have never listened to before tonight, but from our extreme metal aficionado Ellis Woolley's telling I know to expect a barrage of atmospheric black metal with post-metal breaks, in the vein of Wolves in the Throne Room. Such a description provides me with high expectations; however, it soon becomes quite clear that although Altar of Plagues also excel at constructing massive, vivid soundscapes with their razor sharp tremolo riffs and sensual clean parts, the music rarely ascends to a level where it can be considered to be on par with pre-"Celestial Lineage" era WITTR. There are a number of exceptions of course, such as the brilliantly bleak "Earth: as a Furnace", dotting their set as proof that Altar of Plagues, too, are pushing the envelope of what is considered black metal. It is during these passages that one stands in utter disbelief and awe, marveling at the band's ability to forge such atmosphere out of what is actually very simple instrumentation. Anyone can slap a tremolo melody into a song, but it takes a certain level of ingenuity to create art from it. When layer upon layer of oppressive bleakness resonates from the speakers at extreme volume, it is difficult not be blown back - this is the effect Altar of Plagues have when they get it absolutely right; it is the many times when they almost get there but then fail to deliver the final 10% that rank them as apprentices to WITTR in my book. Still, when it comes to atmospheric black metal, it does not get much better than Altar of Plagues.

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