(By Santiago Gutierrez, Staff Writer, RiffRelevant.com)
Finland’s Altar of Betelgeuze first came on to the metal scene in 2012, with a three-song EP, entitled At the Shrine of Light. Today we have a review and full stream of their full-length ‘Among The Ruins’, released last April on Transcending Obscurity Records.
That 2012 début EP turned out to be a strong introduction to their death and doom musical style, with long and ever-evolving song structures that never seemed monotonous in any way. Heck, the title track is over sixteen minutes long, yet breezes by in what seems much less time, a testament to their songwriting ability. The band released their first full length ‘Darkness Sustains the Silence’ in 2015. Building upon the introductory sound found on their EP, Darkness Sustains the Silence added cleaner vocals to some of their compositions, mainly on “The Spiral Decay” and “Steamroller”.
One can’t help but hear a slight similarity to Alice in Chains on these tracks. The addition of these songs generated a diverse listening experience. Along with the long, trademark death-doom metal offerings, these songs provided a change of pace, while still maintaining a grooved doom vibe, if you will. Other songs such as “The Approaching Storm” and “Out of Control” would not feel out-of-place in the classic Maryland doom scene. Overall, a diverse record that still managed to flow despite the changes in song structure and sub-genres throughout the album.
With that bit of history out of the way, on to their current 2017 offering, Among the Ruins. This record finds the band on top of their game, with a sharper focus that undoubtedly comes with experience.
The band states:
“The recording process for the album went pretty smoothly. We had a lot better plan this time around and probably you can hear it from the production. We wanted to have this certain rawness, but still enough clarity to the sound… the variation between the vocal styles and different subgenres always creates some challenges, but all in all the result was pretty good.”
An accurate assessment, if you ask me. The bass work here is more upfront in the mix, and when listened to on headphones, you can make out all the nuances exuding from Nastolin’s instrument.
As with Darkness Sustains the Silence, Among the Ruins also mixes subgenres with ease. You get the groovier songs such as “Sledge of Stone”, “New Dawn”, and “Advocates of Deception”. There’s the classic death-doom of “No Return” and “Absence of Light”, where the band seems more at home and in their comfort zone.
The driving opening track, “The Offering”, keeps things quite interesting with its varied approach to song structure. No doubt, the best choice to open the album. I will gladly ‘take this offering’ any day. They strongly bookend the album with “Among the Ruins”, which is simply majestic in its nearly ten-minute running time. Hands down the highlight on this effort, with all the subtleties going on throughout. Lyrically, this album also shines.
The band mentions that they “…didn’t have any specific theme for the record. It’s doom, so the approach is kind of bleak and/or obscure. There are a lot more hidden subjects covered.”
I must mention that album cover, as well. A black and white illustration by César Valladares Illustration that, while reading the lyrics, just goes hand in hand with the overall bleak feel of the record. Perhaps the solitary figure is gazing upon the Betelgeuze star (which makes up part of the Orion constellation)?
As the last notes ring out on this one, I’m left impressed with how well Altar of Betelgeuze fuse vocal styles along with their mix of death metal, doom, and heavy slow grooving sound. I see the word ‘stoner’ mentioned much on their description, but I don’t quite get the connection, personally. I assuredly look forward to more from them in the future.
Among The Ruins – Tracklist:
1. The Offering
2. Sledge of Stones
3. No Return
4. New Dawn
5. Absence of Light
6. Advocates of Deception
7. Among the Ruins
Check out their Bandcamp page for more information. Both full length releases are currently available from Transcending Obscurity Records.
Matias Nastolin: bass, vocals (growls)
Olli “Otu” Suurmunne: guitar, vocals (clean)
Juho Kareoja: guitar
Aleksi Olkkola: drums