What do Black Altar and Vulture Lord have in common? Both released their debut demos in the late 1990s and have just two full-length albums to their names despite a long career spanning twenty-five years. Neither will win an award for the most productive bands in the black metal underground, yet, in the case of Black Altar, this is their sixth split release. Those of you that enjoyed 2020’s excellent Deus Inversus split with Kirkebrann know it will take an almighty effort to top that record. Are they up to the challenge?
The mysterious vocalist and bassist, Shadow (aka Dariusz Sieradzki), is Black Altar’s sole surviving member from 1996 and owner of Odium Records. It may explain why he prefers to release split EPs every couple of years, although he must have enough material by now to deliver another LP. Fortunately, quality is never an issue with Black Altar. ‘Sacrilegious Congregation’ is a vaporising roar of lightning-fast drums and hysterical tremolo riffs – nothing new in black metal, but it sounds urgent and malicious in the hands of Black Altar. You’ll soon learn to appreciate the subtleties here. Listen to the surprise switch to a two-beat drum pattern at the midway point. Is that not a raw Celtic Frost attack of primitive thrash? As for the faster parts, you’ll hear symphonic dashes where none exist.
Aside from the determination to connect the lines between early Emperor and Bathory, Black Altar are also adept musicians. We get just two full-length songs here, but ‘Nyx’ is an ambitious mix of ugly chord choices and expressive bass guitar shapes wrapped in the cobwebs of a murderous black metal assault. Guitarist, Mauser (ex-Vader), deserves praise here for the way he tries to catch as many high-range strings as possible with the cut of his plectrum. The band are not afraid of melody, either. Those arpeggiated chord passages are as luscious as they are lugubrious.
You might think this is déjà vu when you reach Vulture Lord’s contribution to the split. Like Kirekbrann, they come from Norway and lurk on the thrashier side of black metal. ‘Dominios of Death’ is a fabulous slice of punk-infused heavy metal with menacing double-tracked vocal abrasions and a punky spike. And they play guitar solos with the same amateur zeal as Venom. Anyone who doubts the genius of this song only needs to wait for the switch to the vintage Metallica/Megadeth riff at the two-minute mark for evidence of Vulture Lord’s all-conquering presence. It’s as if contemporary black metal’s preoccupation with avoiding standard minor and major chords never existed in the world of these Norwegians. Check out the evil pentatonic punch of ‘Hark! The Hymns of War’ and marvel at the d-beats towards the end. No wonder the latest promo photo of this band shows four men brandishing medieval weaponry with two of them in executioners’ masks. “Eliminate Christianity and rewrite history,” is the message here.
The latter should be enough to scare you into quiet submission, but Vulture Lord are not finished. ‘Bloodstained Ritualknives’ is like a different band. Out goes the Venom swagger and in comes the uncompromising misanthropy of Mayhem’s Deathcrush EP as the core inspiration. Sorath’s vocals have more reverb and distance than in the previous two songs. The guitar attack is like Hellhammer with better execution and greater competency. Any artists with aspirations to update Bathory’s Under the Sign of the Black Mark have a twenty-first century blueprint here.
Criticism is difficult with this record. If we’re being harsh, we might say the format and structure have too many parallels with the Black Altar & Kirkebrann split from 2020. The quality and variation of the songs leave you wanting more, to the point where frustration rears its head. But maybe that’s the strength. Two separate bands are unlikely to stagnate the listening experience, but would they sustain your interest on their own?
Deathiah Manifesto is a hostile but thrilling affair. If you want terror, you’ve got it. The cemetery gates are beckoning you at the witching hour.
Release Date: 15/02/2022
Record Label: Odium Records
Standout tracks: Black Altar, ‘Nyx’; Vulture Lord, ‘Dominios of Death’
Suggested Further Listening: Darkthrone – Plaguewielder (2001), Bathory – Under the Sign of the Black Mark (1987), Wolfbastard – Hammer the Bastards! (2021)