Altars Of Grief & Nachterror – ‘Of Ash And Dying Light’ Split EP Review

For those with a penchant for darkness, two blackened doom bands of inestimable renown have joined forces for a limited edition 10” vinyl split album entitled ‘of ash and dying light’. Available as a spectacularly limited vinyl, or as a download (with three bonus tracks – two from Nachtterror and one from Altars of Grief). With separate cover art for each band (both designed by Sam Nelson), with the whole effort recorded by Justin Bender (Third Ion / ex-Into Eternity) and with a tour booked in support of the release, this is a monumental release that will satisfy the darkest appetites of blackened doom fans.

Nachtterror Side A

Side A of the release features two tracks from Canadian Blackened Doom project Nachtterror, an act who have been delivering chilling music since 2004. With the band currently developing ‘judgement’, a full-length concept album that looks set to truly set Nachtterror atop the blackened doom heap, the tracks on offer here are a fine taster for what is to come. The EP opens with ‘breathe of the world ablaze’, a crushing, miasmic assault that conjures an atmosphere of nihilistic menace with its whirlwind guitars, manic percussion and vicious juxtaposition of hyper-speed black metal passages and sludgy, doom sections. Few bands are capable of conjuring so dark an atmosphere and the keyboard embellishments and clean vocal sections only serve to highlight the sheer malevolence of the coruscating black metal the band offer elsewhere. The second track, ‘upon ashen shores’ opens upon a contemplative note that underscores the fact that Nachtterror do not necessarily need to indulge in brutality to create an atmosphere of icy melodrama and whilst the track slowly builds an impressive head of steam, culminating in huge, churning riffs and agonized screams, it is the slow, melodic development of the song that lingers long in the memory.

For those buying digitally, Nachtterror offer two bonus tracks. The first of these is the brief, potent ‘fall of the Sabbath’, a stunning broadside of keyboard-infused black metal that tears out of the speakers with a vigour that acts like a dash of cold water to a listener hypnotised by the stately, sombre darkness of the opening tracks. In contrast ‘Belial’ is an epic length piece (clocking in at over eight minutes) that allows Nachtterror full rein to explore the darker reaches of their musical universe. It’s a shame that these two tracks could not be fitted onto the vinyl because both are darkly impressive, but they do, of course, come as a download whether you purchase the vinyl or the physical edition, so vinyl fans will not miss out.

Altars of Grief Side B

Side B of the vinyl features two tracks from Saskatchewan based Altars of Grief, a band who have been active a mere two years (having formed in 2013) and yet have made considerable inroads into the field of blackened doom with their impressive debut album ‘this shameful burden’. Considered one of the finest exponents of blackened doom and drawing comparisons with the mighty Woods of Ypres, Altars of Grief have made an impressive name for themselves, and that is likely to be cemented by the tracks on offer here. Opening their side with ‘in dying light’, a lengthy epic, Altar of Grief take their time, utilising a clean guitar passage more reminiscent of Katatonia than of Darkthrone, building an atmosphere with a stately tempo and layers of synth that add depth to the sound without taking away the primitive power of the distorted guitars. It takes a full two minutes for vocals to arrive, and when they do, torn apart by grief and riddled with doubt and pain, they scream from the heart of the maelstrom that the band have painstakingly bought into existence. In contrast to its predecessor, the lengthy ‘your heaven’ takes no time to build, the band unleashing a venomous wall of noise from the off that is rather like being caught in a slow-motion tidal wave as the riffs pile over you and the taut vocals scream at you from the heart of it all. Once again there’s a wonderful juxtaposition between the clean, harmonied vocals which offer hints of opeth, and the more energetic blackened vocals which are torn form the darkest pit of despair. There’s depth and passion in evidence here and it’s impossible not to get caught up in the grandiloquent sweep of it all as the band take you on a journey into the darkest reaches of human imagination. The bonus track (just one from Altars of grief, sadly), as with Nachtterror, is no mere afterthought, but a wonderful piece of work in its own right. Entitled ‘Room of Angel’, it’s a melodic yet crushingly heavy piece of doom that underscores once again the amazing power that Altars of Grief can bring to bear in their song writing. It’s a deep, impressively melancholic composition that is a fitting coda to the stunning material found on the physical vinyl edition.

This is blackened doom at its very finest. Both bands offer their own individual take on blackened doom with Nachtterror arguably veering more strongly to the blackened side of things whilst Altars of Grief offer up a more symphonic, elegant take on doom with blackened elements. Both bands, however, are masters at their craft and neither one exceeds the other in terms of ability or depth of composition. Most importantly both bands complement the other, and there is a heavy atmosphere that hangs over this split release that is successfully conjured and maintained by both bands. Whether you opt for the limited, gorgeous 10” vinyl or the digital download, this is a remarkable testament to the skill and ability that exists in the underground extreme metal scene today and it is essential listening.

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